Officials recover remains of chopper crash victims
WEAVERVILLE — Authorities worked Saturday to recover the remains of nine people who died when a firefighting helicopter crashed in remote Northern California wilderness.
The Sikorsky S-61N aircraft was carrying ten firefighters, two pilots and a U.S. Forest Service employee when it went down just after take-off Tuesday night in the Trinity-Shasta National Forest. Four of those aboard were injured and taken to hospitals.
The remains of one victim were removed from the crash site Friday, and more were expected to be recovered Saturday, said Sgt. Royce Grossman of the Trinity County Sheriff’s Department. Officials hope recovery efforts will be completed by Sunday night.
The Trinity County Coroner in Weaverville will use the remains to identify the crash victims.
Two of the four men who survived the crash, firefighters Michael Brown, 20, and Jonathan Frohreich, 18, both of Medford, Ore., were discharged from UC Davis Medical Center in Sacramento on Saturday. They suffered facial burns and broken bones.
A third survivor, co-pilot William Coultas, 44, of Cave Junction, Ore., remained in critical condition at the medical center after undergoing skin graft surgery.
Brown said he couldn’t remember anything about the crash, but felt that he was spared because “God had his hand wrapped around me.”
He said he was recovering physically but was mourning the loss of friends killed in the crash. “Those guys were brothers to me…,” he said. “I will love them forever.”
The cockpit voice recorder, which was recovered from the wreckage Thursday, arrived Saturday at the National Transportation Safety Board’s headquarters in Washington, where experts examined it and determined it was made by a British company. The device will be sent to Britain for analysis to see if it contains any useful recordings, said NTSB spokesman Ted Lopatkiewicz.
A team of NTSB investigators were working at the crash site Saturday to examine the wreckage and retrieve the helicopter’s two engines, which will be examined for evidence of pre-impact failure, Lopatkiewicz said.
Meanwhile, federal officials were trying to determine why hours passed before federal and local agencies were told that there were probably fatalities in the crash.
Mike Odle, a spokesman for the Trinity-Shasta National Forest, said he was told about 7:45 p.m. Tuesday that four people were injured, but it was uncertain how many others were on board.
Trinity County Sheriff Lorrac Craig said the Forest Service didn’t notify his department until six hours after the crash.
NTSB officials first learned about the accident around 11 p.m. Tuesday, but were not told there were fatalities until 8 a.m. Wednesday,
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