Helicopter caught higher set of lines, report confirms

A helicopter crash that killed three people doing power-line inspection work south of Silt last week occurred when it struck a higher set of lines, a preliminary investigation report says.

The National Transportation Safety Board report is consistent with initial indications of how the crash occurred.

The accident occurred Jan. 27 about a mile and a half south of Silt and killed pilot Doug Sheffer of Basalt, Holy Cross Energy employee Larry Shaffer of Rifle, and Aurora resident Chris Gaskill, an employee of Hot/Shot Infrared Inspections.

The three that morning had begun what was to have been a multi-day, infrared-camera inspection of lines across Holy Cross Energy’s service territory to look for potential problems.

It said the helicopter reportedly had completed a surveillance flight early in the day and landed at the Garfield County Regional Airport in Rifle for refueling before departing again about 10:45 a.m. The accident occurred just over a half-hour later, about three miles east of the airport.

The three were examining power lines that predominantly run north-south, the report said. Other lines owned by Xcel Energy run generally east-west, crossing above the Holy Cross lines.

“Two parallel static wires ran from the top of each Xcel Energy tower to the next tower. The helicopter struck the south static wire and subsequently impacted the ground. A witness reported seeing the helicopter heading south just prior to the accident,” the report says.

It said that according to a representative of Hot/Shot Infrared Inspections, the contract with Holy Cross Energy required video recording of the entire flight.

“During examination of the wreckage, two recording devices were found and retained for further examination. One of the recording devices had a secure digital (SD) memory card installed. The SD card slot of the other recording device was empty. A second SD card was not located during the wreckage examination,” the report says.

NTSB and Federal Aviation Administration officials visited the wreckage scene as part of the investigation.

The report makes no indication of weather problems at the time of the crash.

“Visual meteorological conditions prevailed for the flight, which was not on a flight plan,” it said.

Sheffer owned DBS Helicopters, which was based at the Garfield airport. The NTSB said the Bell 206L-3 helicopter that crashed was registered to and operated by Delta Bravo Sierra Inc., which the Colorado Secretary of State’s Office shows was incorporated in 1992 by Sheffer and his wife, Barbi.

The NTSB said the helicopter was registered under federal regulations as an on-demand air taxi. Sheffer did a variety of commercial work, and also played a crucial role in regional search-and-rescue operations.

A more complete NTSB investigation to produce a full factual report and name a probable cause is expected to take months.


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