3 dead in helicopter crash south of Silt
SILT — Three people, including longtime local helicopter pilot Doug Sheffer, were killed Monday morning when a helicopter that was being used to inspect power lines in the area apparently snagged a line and crashed, according to the Garfield County Sheriff’s Office.
Sheffer was the longtime owner and chief pilot for DBS Helicopters based out of the Rifle-Garfield County Airport.
“I’ve known Doug for a lot of years since I become sheriff,” Garfield County Sheriff Lou Vallario said.
“He was certainly a top-notch pilot and good friend, and was instrumental in a lot of search and rescue efforts,” Vallario said of Sheffer’s work with Garfield County Search and Rescue.
“Because of Doug we were able to rescue many people that we might not otherwise have been able to,” Vallario said.
Sheffer was also a founding parent at the private Waldorf School on Roaring Fork, which started in Aspen and is now located near Carbondale. His daughter graduated from the school in 2002, said Karla Comey, faculty administrator at the Waldorf School, who was in touch with family members after the accident.
“He has been instrumental in supporting our school from the beginning,” Comey said. “We dearly love him, and send him on his way with much love and light for his transition.”
The crash happened at 11:18 a.m., and emergency officials were on the scene within five minutes, Sheriff’s spokesman Walt Stowe said.
The helicopter was part of a fleet that began monitoring power lines within the Holy Cross service area on Monday. All three of the people killed were aboard the helicopter when it crashed.
Officials have not identified the other two crash victims.
“There were citizens on site when the crash happened,” Stowe said, indicating that one of the people on the scene knew the three people aboard.
Dry Hollow Road (County Road 331) was closed for several hours on either side of the crash site, but was reopened to traffic at about 3:30 p.m.
Numerous emergency vehicles and personnel from multiple agencies, including the Sheriff’s Office and Colorado River Fire Rescue, will remain in the vicinity helping to maintain security overnight.
National Transportation Safety Board officials were expected to arrive Tuesday to conduct their investigation, Vallario said.
The crash also caused power outages in the area, which workers from both Holy Cross and Xcel Energy were working to restore, he said.
The power line monitoring is part of an ongoing effort that started Monday and was to continue through Wednesday to gauge the health of the Holy Cross grid and reduce outages, according to a press release sent out last week by Holy Cross Energy and DBS Helicopters of Rifle.
DBS was working with HotShot Infrared Inspections of Fort Collins to survey 250 miles of transmission lines from the air, and using infrared photography to identify potential trouble spots on power lines and at substation facilities.
Sheffer and Holy Cross officials explained the power line inspection project in a news release sent out last week, so that the public would be aware of the operation.
Helicopters were to be flying about 30 feet above the transmission poles, which are approximately 50 feet tall, he said.
The helicopters were to be traveling anywhere from 25 to 40 miles per hour.
“Unless a problem area is located, a person on the ground will just see and hear a low-flying helicopter passing by, according to the news release.
If a problem is encountered, the helicopter would circle back and hover for a few minutes to record the area with video, still shots and a GPS coordinate.
“It will then proceed along the line and away from that neighborhood,” according to the news release.
“Believe me, those two to three minutes will seem more like 10 minutes,” Sheffer commented in the release. “Our goal is to linger as little as possible at any one point during these three days.”