OLYMPIC NATIONAL FOREST — A preliminary report on a logging helicopter crash Friday morning that killed a member of a Montana family steeped in the timber industry will be issued in two weeks, a National Transportation Safety Board spokesman said Monday.
But any potential cause surrounding the death of 44-year-old Joshua M. Tripp of Missoula, Mont., won’t be known for one to two years, Eric Weiss predicted.
Tripp, piloting a six-seat 1965 Bell UH-1B “Huey” helicopter, was killed at about 1,400 feet above sea level in mountainous terrain at about 7:40 a.m. Friday morning, authorities said.
The chopper crashed in a rugged area of Olympic National Forest 7 miles west of Lake Crescent while hoisting logs during a logging operation, they said.
Weiss said the preliminary report will contain basic facts of the crash following an examination of data and interviews with witnesses, but no reason behind the mishap.
“The final report will come up with the cause,” he said.
“We’ll follow the facts where they go.
“Based on the thousands of other investigations we’ve done, basically it will be between a year and two years for a final report.”
Dave Tripp of Missoula, Joshua’s second cousin, owns Tripp Lumber Inc. of Missoula.
“I’ve known Josh ever since he was a kid,” Tripp, 69, said Monday.
He said the Tripp family first arrived in the Missoula area in the 1940s, immediately gravitating toward the logging industry.
Tripp said Josh worked in logging soon after high school, later owning a trucking company with his own logging truck and self-loader before breaking his back in a logging accident 10 to 15 years ago.
Tripp said after that, Josh began logging by helicopter.
Josh Tripp formed Iron Eagle Helicopter Inc. in 2006.
The company was not based at Missoula International Airport, airport Director Cris Jensen said.
He had a current commercial helicopter rating, according to the Federal Aviation Administration.
“He really enjoyed doing it,” Dave Tripp said.
“As far as I know, that’s all he did, was being in the woods.
“It’s just a lifestyle that kind of comes with this area.”
Brian King, Clallam County Sheriff’s Office chief criminal deputy, said the NTSB recovered the wreckage of the helicopter Sunday.
The NTSB contracted with a helicopter service company to extract pieces of the 1965 Richards Heavylift Helo Inc. helicopter above the 60-percent-grade slope where Tripp crashed, King said.
“In the end, they were going in pieces” as the retrieval chopper extricated the downed aircraft, King said.
“They weren’t lifting it all at one time.”
Tripp was subcontracted by the timber company Interfor U.S. Inc., to work out of a 193-acre tract in Olympic National Forest, U.S. Forest Service spokeswoman Susan Garner said Monday.
Interfor had contracted with the Forest Service to conduct thinning operations, Garner said.
“We’re deeply saddened by the death of Josh Tripp, president of Iron Eagle Helicopters,” Andrew Horahan, Interfor vice president of operations, said Monday in a prepared statement.
“Operations at the site have not resumed.
“Everyone at Interfor sends their deepest condolences to Josh’s family, friends and co-workers.”
The investigation will be led by the NTSB with assistance from the FAA, FAA spokesman Allen Kenitzer said Monday in an email.
It will include a review of communications between Tripp and air traffic control and if he was operating under a flight plan and instrument flight rules.
The NTSB will focus on the cause of the mishap, while the Federal Aviation Administration will look for anomalies or problems with the flight as part of a flight profile that will be forwarded to the NTSB.
The FAA will review weather conditions, the chopper’s navigation aids and maintenance log, and Tripp’s qualifications, flight log and current medical record.
An autopsy is being conducted on Tripp that might be completed by Wednesday, King said.
Tripp’s body was recovered Saturday from the wreckage and carried 500 yards downhill from the crash site to a command center, King said.
Dave Tripp said he did not yet know about burial arrangements for his cousin.
“There are only about 200 members of the Tripp family,” he said.
“It will be a big funeral.”
Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 55650, or at [email protected].