OLYMPIC NATIONAL FOREST — The body of a pilot who died during a logging operation when his helicopter crashed in the West End on Friday morning was carried down a rugged hill from the wreckage Saturday afternoon.
Joshua M. Tripp, 44, of Missoula, Mont., was killed when his UH-1 Huey crashed in the West Twin River area about 7 miles west of Lake Crescent on Friday, said Brian King, Clallam County Sheriff’s Office chief criminal deputy.
Tripp, the president of Iron Eagle Helicopter Inc., was based at a logging camp in Olympic National Forest, authorities said.
No one else was aboard the helicopter.
A team of about 15, which included investigators with the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), secured the helicopter so that Tripp’s body could be extricated from it, said King, speaking on a cellphone from the crash site on Saturday afternoon.
At 2:30 p.m., Tripp’s remains were carried down a steep, snow-covered hillside to the command center set up about 6 miles up Forest Service Road 30, King said.
The tools needed to remove his body were back-packed up the hill to the crash site, which was about 500 yards form the command center, King said.
He added that the terrain was so rugged that it had been feared they would have to drop the tools in by air.
Working together were personnel with the Clallam County Search and Rescue team, Clallam County Fire District 1 and Forks Ambulance, as well as the NTSB investigators.
The sheriff’s office is turning the investigation into the cause of the crash over to the NTSB, which will work in unison with the Federal Aviation Administration, King said.
The plan is to begin bringing parts of the helicopter down today, King said.
“It will be an aerial operation,” he said. “We’re trying to take advantage of the weather,” which he described as cold but clear.
He said that, so far, there is nothing to explain why the copter went down. The weather was clear Friday morning, he added.
The Clallam County Sheriff’s Office and other agencies, including the U.S. Coast Guard, initially investigated.
The Sheriff’s Office said Peninsula Communications received a 9-1-1 call at 7:40 a.m. Friday regarding the crash of a UH-1 Huey helicopter conducting forestry operations in the area of West Twin Road in Olympic National Forest.
Tripp had been conducting grapple-logging operations in Olympic National Forest, hoisting logs he moved to a site before they were put on loaders, King said.
He left the landing pad at the logging site at about 7:30 a.m.
“It was a short time later that he reported going down, and they lost contact,” King said.
“We don’t know if he was actually picking up a log.”
A logger found the crash site at 8:52 a.m. Friday and confirmed that the pilot had died.
A Coast Guard aircraft assisted in the search, spokeswoman Amanda Norcross said.
Olympic National Forest spokeswoman Susan Garner said the helicopter was subcontracted to a logging operation doing work under the KOCC Sale in Olympic National Forest.
An Olympic National Forest Service law enforcement officer was sent to the site, she said.
“We’re all pretty shook up about this,” Garner said.
“It’s a terrible tragedy for everyone.”
Clallam County Sheriff’s deputies, Clallam County Search and Rescue, Clallam County Fire District No. 1 and the State Patrol were in the area Friday morning, said the Sheriff’s Office.
The Port Angeles Disaster Response Team (DART) was activated for the first time for a mission when it was asked to take aerial photos of the crash site on Friday.
Life Flight Network, which moved into facilities at the Port of Port Angeles’ Fairchild International Airport last month, volunteered its services on Friday as well.
Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 55650, or at [email protected].