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Feds investigating helicopter crash

Steve Benson
A helicopter lies on its side after crashing during the installment of lift towers on Buttermilk. Aspen Times photo/Paul Conrad.
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Exactly what caused a helicopter to crash into Buttermilk Mountain on Friday afternoon remains under investigation.Michael Kendrick of the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office, who was the first emergency worker to reach the crash site, said investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board were supposed to arrive Saturday morning, but were occupied with other investigations and didn’t make the trip.Instead, a Federal Aviation Administration official, who was already in Snowmass Village to observe this weekend’s hot air balloon festival, gathered evidence on Saturday and will likely hand it over to the NTSB.”They work separately, but parallel,” Kendrick said. “It’s not abnormal for both agencies to get involved. Normally it wouldn’t have happened with this type of crash, but [the FAA official] already happened to be here.”The helicopter was assisting with the installation of lift towers for the new West Buttermilk Express when it crashed around 1 p.m. No one was injured. The pilot, Mark Duffy, walked away nearly unscathed and refused medical treatment, Kendrick said. Duffy, owner of Montana-based Copters Inc., was the only person aboard the helicopter.

But the aircraft, a Huey 214, was totaled; its nose and tail were both nearly severed.Duffy’s wife, Pam, said the helicopter was not insured.”I don’t know how to describe it,” she said. “It’s very devastating, but we’ll recover.”She added that helicopter insurance is “very, very costly,” and the company only had the required liability insurance. She said her husband, who has more than 30 years of experience flying helicopters, is fine.”He’s lucky,” she said.

Aspen Times photographer Paul Conrad, who was at Buttermilk on Friday morning covering the tower installation, said he overheard Duffy complaining of low fuel pressure hours before the crash.Mark Duffy declined to comment on Sunday.A Copters Inc. crew is working on removing the wreckage from the mountain, and another company has been contracted to finish the job.The helicopter crashed near the intersection of the Savio and Lovers Lane ski trails. The site is precariously close to the Summit Express chairlift on the upper part of the mountain, where the new West Buttermilk towers were laid out.Hans Hohl, Buttermilk’s mountain manager, declined to comment Friday afternoon.

Jeff Hanle, communications director for the Aspen Skiing Co., said the installation of the towers at Buttermilk, and the new FIS lift on Aspen Mountain, would probably resume Tuesday. Ten of the 19 new towers on West Buttermilk were installed prior to the crash. Work has not begun on Ajax, Hanle said.Kendrick said it could be months before the investigation is completed and the cause of the crash released.”There’s no such thing as a quick investigation,” he said. “The norm on an easy one is six months.”The Poma Group, a world leader in cable transportation systems, is in charge of the installation project. Company officials could not be reached for comment.Steve Benson’s e-mail address is sbenson@aspentimes.com


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