Two men injured after helicopter crashes near Rifle while inspecting power lines

John Stroud
Glenwood Springs Post Independent

Investigators remain on the scene of a Saturday morning helicopter crash south of Rifle that sent the two occupants to the hospital and touched off a small brush fire.

According to Rifle Police Chief Tommy Klein, the crash was reported at 7:36 a.m. Saturday by a couple passing by on nearby Interstate 70 who witnessed the crash.

The two-person helicopter crashed just inside Rifle city limits beneath the Xcel Energy power lines south of Airport Road, near the Colorado Mountain College Rifle Campus.

Xcel Energy spokeswoman Michelle Aguayo confirmed early Saturday afternoon that the helicopter was carrying a third-party subcontracting crew that was taking pictures for future work on the lines.

“What we know is the two crew members were taken to the hospital for observation,” she said in an emailed statement. “Our thoughts are with the crew members and their families. We will be working with officials in their investigation.”

The pilot and a passenger, both males, were reportedly able to get out of the wrecked chopper before it erupted in flames, Klein said. They were transported to Grand River Hospital for treatment. He could not comment on the extent or nature of their injuries.

Klein said it was a smaller helicopter, but couldn’t say what type.

“We have notified the NTSB (National Transportation Safety Board) and FAA (Federal Aviation Administration), and will be on scene until the federal officials arrive,” Klein said.

Also on scene was Rifle Garfield County Airport Director Brian Condie to help with the initial response, Klein said.

Colorado River Fire Rescue also responded with a brush fire crew and was able to contain the resulting fire following the crash, according to a Garfield County Sheriff’s Office press release.

The last helicopter crash to occur in Garfield County was six and a half years ago and also involved crews working for a power company.

Helicopters are commonly used to conduct power line inspections, often using infrared photography to check for trouble spots.

In January 2014, a helicopter crash involving crews inspecting power lines for Holy Cross Energy in the Divide Creek area south of Silt killed all three people on board, including longtime local search-and-rescue pilot Doug Sheffer.

Power outage in Carbondale

About the same time Saturday morning, Xcel Energy reported a power outage affecting parts of Carbondale. The incident was not related to the helicopter crash, but was due to animal contact at a transformer, Aguayo said.

The outage was reported at 7:31 a.m. and caused 70 customers to lose power. Service has since been restored, she said.