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October 28, 2013
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Two state biologists and pilot survive helicopter crash in South Umpqua River

DAYS CREEK — Three people are being treated for injuries suffered in a helicopter crash in the South Umpqua River shortly before noon today, officials said.

The crash was reported at 11:41 a.m. in the 13000 block of Tiller Trail Highway.

The helicopter was carrying two Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife employees who were conducting fish counts in the river.

Fish biologists Holly Huchko, 34, and Eric Himmelreich, 35, were transported to Mercy Medical Center in Roseburg. Huchko suffered a broken back and Himmelreich a broken vertebra, according to ODFW spokeswoman Meghan Dugan.

Huchko was transferred to Sacred Heart Medical Center at RiverBend in Springfield, while Himmelreich was in fair condition at Mercy, a hospital spokesman said this evening.

The pilot of the Bell Jet Ranger was airlifted from the Days Creek Charter School football field to Sacred Heart Medical Center, officials said.

He was identified by one of the helicopter’s owners, Robert Ferreira of Ashland, as Fred Wittlake, 55. The helicopter is registered to Ferreira, Siskiyou Transportation and Timberland Helicopters, according to the Federal Aviation Administration.

Ferreira said this evening that Wittlake suffered a broken arm and ribs. “He’s doing fine, laughing and joking,” said Ferreira, who was with Wittlake at the hospital.

Wittlake was in fair condition this evening, a spokeswoman said.

Ferreira said he didn’t know what caused the helicopter to crash.

“Nobody knows,” he said. “We’re thankful everybody survived.”

The pilot’s identity was not released by the Department of Fish and Wildlife because he was not a department employee, Dugan said.

Sheriff’s Cpl. Brian Melvin said all three people were conscious following the crash and the injuries did not appear life-threatening. Emergency personnel pulled the occupants from the helicopter just after 1 p.m., Melvin said.

Days Creek resident Pat Storms said she saw the helicopter flying “sideways” and low as it passed her home, which is across the river from Days Creek school in the 11000 block of Tiller Trail Highway.

“I heard it first. It was so loud it drew my attention,” she said. “I thought, ‘Gosh, it’s way too low.’ ”

Shortly after that, she heard sirens.

“I knew when I heard all the sirens, it was that helicopter,” Storms said.

Days Creek resident Bob Danskin, who lives in the 13000 block of Tiller Trailer Highway, said he heard the helicopter going “low and slow” along the river shortly before it crashed.

“Something didn’t sound right. I heard a ‘pop’ and a ‘bang’ and then quiet,” he said.

Danskin said he drove to the river and arrived about 10 minutes later. The helicopter was about 10 feet from the river bank on the highway side and in waist-deep water, he said.

Two men were helping the occupants from the helicopter, Danskin said.

The crash brought down lines power lines, and fuel leaked into the river, officials said.

The power lines lay down the hillside and coiled by the side of the road.

A regional hazardous spills team put absorbent material across the river to contain the spill.

“There was a noticeable sheen of fuel in the river and smelled pretty bad,” Danskin said.

The Federal Aviation Administration and National Transportation Safety Board have been notified, the sheriff’s office said.

The biologists were aboard the helicopter counting spawning nests, also called redds, in the river. The information gathered from population surveys like this goes toward setting fishing regulations each year, said ODFW spokeswoman Meghan Dugan. The department also uses helicopters to count deer and elk populations.

Himmelreich and Huchko work out of the Umpqua Fish District office on Diamond Lake Boulevard in Roseburg. Melvin said the helicopter left from Roseburg this morning.

Days Creek Charter School closed its campus at lunch to keep students indoors while the helicopter landed and emergency vehicles were coming and going.

“We were made aware that helicopters were going to land on the football field,” said Kim Dunn, the school’s business manager. “We wanted to keep everything as controlled as possible.”

Dunn said students usually walk to a nearby store to grab food around 12:30 p.m.

The first helicopter took one patient away just after the lunch period ended, and it was decided a second helicopter would not be needed, she said.

Pacific Power spokesman Tom Gauntt said the crash took down a transmission line. Some 320 customers in the Days Creek area were without electricity between 11:35 a.m. and 1:32 p.m., he said.

• Reporter Jessica Prokop and City Editor Don Jenkins contributed to this report.

Updated version of story:

DAYS CREEK — Three people are being treated for injuries suffered in a helicopter crash in the South Umpqua River shortly before noon today, officials said.

The crash was reported at 11:41 a.m. in the 13000 block of Tiller Trail Highway.

The helicopter was carrying two Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife employees who were conducting fish counts in the river.

Fish biologists Holly Huchko, 34, and Eric Himmelreich, 35, were transported to Mercy Medical Center in Roseburg. Huchko suffered a broken back, and Himmelreich a broken vertebra, according to ODFW spokeswoman Meghan Dugan.

The man who was piloting the Bell Jet Ranger was airlifted from the Days Creek Charter School football field to Sacred Heart Medical Center at RiverBend in Springfield, officials said. The pilot’s identity was not released by the Department of Fish and Wildlife because he is not a department employee, Dugan said.

Sheriff’s Cpl. Brian Melvin said all three people were conscious following the crash and the injuries did not appear life-threatening. Emergency personnel pulled the occupants from the helicopter just after 1 p.m., Melvin said.

Days Creek resident Bob Danskin, who lives in the 13000 block of Tiller Trailer Highway, said he heard the helicopter going “low and slow” along the river shortly before it crashed.

“Something didn’t sound right. I heard a ‘pop’ and a ‘bang’ and then quiet,” he said.

Danskin said he drove to the river and arrived about 10 minutes later. The helicopter was about 10 feet from the river back on the highway side and in waist-deep water, he said.

Two men were helping the occupants from the helicopter, Danskin said.

The crash brought down lines power lines, and fuel leaked into the river, officials said. A regional hazardous spills team put absorbent material across the river to contain the spill.

The power lines lay down the hillside and coiled by the side of the road.

“There was a noticeable sheen of fuel in the river and smelled pretty bad,” Danskin said.

The Federal Aviation Administration and National Transportation Safety Board have been notified, the sheriff’s office said.

The biologists were aboard the helicopter counting spawning nests, also called redds, in the river. The information gathered from population surveys like this goes toward setting fishing regulations each year, Dugan said. The department also uses helicopters to count deer and elk populations.

Himmelreich and Huchko work out of the Umpqua Fish District office on Diamond Lake Boulevard in Roseburg. Melvin said the helicopter left from Roseburg this morning.

Days Creek Charter School closed its campus at lunch to keep students indoors while the air ambulance landed and emergency vehicles were coming and going.

“We were made aware that helicopters were going to land on the football field,” said Kim Dunn, the school’s business manager. “We wanted to keep everything as controlled as possible.”

Dunn said students usually walk to a nearby store to grab food around 12:30 p.m.

The first helicopter took one patient away just after the lunch period ended, and it was decided a second helicopter would not be needed, she said.

Pacific Power spokesman Tom Gauntt said the crash took down a transmission line. Some 320 customers in the Days Creek area were without electricity between 11:35 a.m. and 1:32 p.m., he said.

This was the original story:

A helicopter crash has been reported outside Days Creek, according to the Douglas County Sheriff’s office.

The crash was reported at 11:41 a.m. in the 13000 block of Tiller Trail Highway.

Crews with local fire and police agencies, including a swiftwater rescue team, responded to the scene, said sheriff’s spokesman Dwes Hutson.

It was unclear if anyone died in the crash, Hutson said. Survivors were being transported to hospitals.


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The News-Review Updated Oct 30, 2013 12:40PM Published Oct 28, 2013 06:35PM Copyright 2013 The News-Review. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.