3 dead in helicopter crash south of Silt, Colorado

John Stroud
Glenwood Springs Post Independent
Drew Munro /

SILT ­— Three people, including longtime local helicopter pilot Doug Sheffer, were killed Monday morning during a routine aerial inspection of power lines south of here when a helicopter snagged a line and crashed.

Authorities did not release the names of the other two people killed in the crash, although one reportedly worked for Holy Cross Energy.

All three of the people killed were on board the helicopter when it crashed, according to the Garfield County Sheriff’s Office.

Sheriff Lou Vallario confirmed Monday afternoon upon returning from the crash scene that Sheffer, the owner and chief pilot for DBS Helicopters based out of the Rifle-Garfield County Airport, was among those killed.

“I’ve known Doug for a lot of years, since I first became sheriff,” Vallario said. “He was certainly a top-notch pilot and good friend, and was instrumental in a lot of search and rescue efforts.”

Sheffer often worked with the Sheriff’s Office, Garfield Search and Rescue, Mountain Rescue out of Aspen, and other agencies in a variety of operations, including searches for people lost or missing in the rugged mountains of central Colorado.

“Because of Doug we were able to rescue many people that we might not otherwise have been able to,” Vallario said. “He is definitely going to be missed.”

The BELL LongRanger helicopter belonging to Sheffer and DBS had been contracted by Holy Cross Energy for a three-day operation that started Monday to monitor and check for trouble spots along power lines within the Glenwood Springs-based utility’s service area.

According to Sheffer’s biography on the DBS website, he had 22 years of piloting experience and more than 8,000 hours in the air in mountain areas above 8,000 feet elevation.

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. We hold him in the same regard as he did other people.”

Airplane pilot and friend Bruce Gordon of Aspen-based EcoFlight posted on Facebook upon learning of the tragedy:

“Doug was one of a kind, from being the very best of human beings, to being a wonderful husband and father, and exceptional friend and mentor in every kind of life skill.”

Added filmmaker Anson Fogel in another Facebook post, “…anyone who has filmed a lot in these mountains has ridden in his helicopter — he was a key part of the film business in Colorado.”

The crash happened at 11:18 a.m. Monday where the shared Holy Cross and Xcel Energy power lines cross Dry Hollow Road about 1.6 miles south of Silt, according to Garfield Sheriff’s spokesman Walt Stowe.

Deputies and other emergency officials were on the scene within five minutes, he said.

“There were citizens on site when the crash happened, and they were the first ones there,” Stowe said. He indicated that one of the people on the scene knew all three people aboard the helicopter.

Throughout the early afternoon, most vehicles were turned back at a roadblock about a mile north of the crash site on Dry Hollow Road (CR 331). Holy Cross trucks and a pickup from DBS Helicopters were allowed through.

At one point, a man who had identified himself at the checkpoint as being from Holy Cross hugged two other men for a few moments before they got into vehicles and drove toward the crash site.

The site where the crash occurred is in steep, hilly, snow-covered terrain. The power line at the site spans a broad, deep ravine where the road winds through a small canyon. The actual crash site, which was not visible from other roads in the area or the roadblock, was down a steep embankment along the road.

The county road was closed for several hours immediately after the crash, but was later reopened to traffic.

Site guarded

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 and FAA 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 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.

DBS was working with HotShot Infrared Inspections of Fort Collins to survey 250 miles of transmission lines from the air. The team was 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.”

Drew Munro contributed to this report.