A dive team deployed to the North Slope lake where a helicopter carrying a pilot and three state workers crashed last week recovered the bodies of the four deceased Sunday morning, Alaska State Troopers said.
The 1996 Bell 206 helicopter, which was operated by Maritime Helicopters, crashed Thursday while transporting state employees conducting fieldwork in the area, troopers said in an online report Sunday. The aircraft crashed in a lake near Wainwright, about 50 miles south of Utqiaġvik.
The North Slope Borough Police Department identified those killed in the crash as North Pole pilot Bernard “Tony” Higdon, 48; Fairbanks resident Ronald Daanen, 51; Fairbanks resident Justin Germann, 27; and South Bend, Indiana resident Tori Moore, 26, according to troopers. Their next of kin have been notified of their deaths, troopers said.
The Alaska Department of Natural Resources said in a social media post Sunday that Daanen, Germann and Moore worked in the state’s Division of Geological and Geophysical Surveys and were doing field survey work outside Utqiaġvik.
“The Department is beginning the process of grieving for our colleagues, supporting our team through this challenging time, and working with partner agencies to learn everything we can about this incident,” the Department of Natural Resources said in its post.
Maritime Helicopters described Higdon as “the consummate professional and a skilled pilot.” “He will be greatly missed,” the company said in a statement on its website.
The helicopter was initially reported overdue Thursday night, and a North Slope Borough search and rescue team in a helicopter found debris in the lake matching the description of the missing helicopter, said D.J. Fauske, the borough’s director of government and external affairs. The helicopter flight originated in Utqiaġvik and was supposed to return there, said Clint Johnson, chief of the National Transportation Safety Board’s Alaska regional office.
Volunteers with the Alaska Dive Search, Rescue, and Recovery Team arrived at the crash site around 10:45 p.m. Saturday and recovered the deceased individuals around 6 a.m. Sunday, with assistance from the North Slope Borough police and search and rescue team, troopers said.
The bodies of the deceased were flown to Utqiaġvik for identification and will be autopsied by the State Medical Examiner’s Office, troopers said.
The NTSB is investigating what caused the crash. Johnson said the agency’s investigators planned to send out a team once the helicopter and bodies had been recovered from the lake. That team will include representatives from Bell Helicopter, the airframe manufacturer, Rolls Royce, the engine manufacturer and the FAA, Johnson said.
Troopers said Sunday that “efforts to remove the wreckage from the lake are underway.”
The crash left the helicopter fragmented and partially submerged in the middle of the lake, requiring the use of another helicopter to remove the wreckage, Johnson has said. He described the availability of another helicopter in the area as a potential challenge, saying it was likely the aircraft won’t be raised from the shallow, 1-mile-wide lake until Monday or Tuesday.
Maritime Helicopters said it will “continue to work closely with the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) in their investigation as they search for answers in this accident.”