UPDATE: 3 dead in helicopter crash near Silt
A well-respected pilot based out of Rifle and an electric utility employee were among the three people killed when a helicopter struck a power line and crashed south of Silt this morning.
Doug Sheffer, chief pilot and owner of DBS Helicopters, based at the Garfield County Regional Airport, was flying a small helicopter under contract to do power-line inspections for Holy Cross Energy, based in Glenwood Springs. Sheffer had provided a range of services over the years, including search-and-rescue work that “undoubtedly saved lives,” said Garfield Sheriff Lou Vallario.
Steve Casey, a Holy Cross spokesman, said a worker for the utility, who he didn’t identify, also was killed.
“The loss of the three people is tragic for all involved,” he said.
No one survived the accident, and no immediate information was available on the third victim. An infrared service company of the Front Range also was reportedly involved in the Holy Cross project, designed to identify hot spots that might signal potential power-line problems.
The crash occurred about a mile south of Silt near County Road 331 (Dry Hollow Road). Sheriff’s spokesman Walt Stowe said authorities received the call at 11:18 a.m. Witnesses were on scene almost immediately.
“Somebody went right to the helicopter. One of the citizens, he evidently knew the three people in there and that there were no survivors,” Stowe said.
A lower set of Holy Cross lines run north-south in the valley alongside the road, and a higher set of larger Xcel Energy lines run east-west across the valley. Vallario said the National Transportation Safety Board would be arriving on Tuesday to investigate the accident, but it appeared the lower part of the helicopter, or possibly something it was hauling, struck the line.
“Then (the copter) twisted and slammed into the ground,” he said.
The accident broke an Xcel line, which snapped back and came to rest among other lines still in place on the other side of the road. Vallario said the incident caused at least an area outage and crews with both utilities worked quickly to restore power so residents wouldn’t be left without electricity for heat overnight.
Xcel spokesman Mark Stutz said he wasn’t aware of any Xcel customers having lost power, and also didn’t have any information on an Xcel line being hit, although it’s possible that occurred.
Sheffer conducted mountain rescue operations and was well-respected in the area for his flying. His website reports he has 22 years and more than 8,000 hours of flying experience. A post on Sheffer’s Facebook page Monday said that Sheffer was the one of the best mountain pilots for filmmakers.
“Doug was not a filmmaker but anyone who has filmed a lot in these mountains has ridden in his helicopter — he was a key part of the film business in Colorado,” read one post by Anson Fogel. “We trusted our lives to him, his mechanic, Paul, and his perfectly maintained Bell (helicopter).”
Sheffer was a founding member of the Waldorf School on the Roaring Fork, and his daughter graduated in 2002. However Sheffer maintained his involvement with the school and students, and just on Sunday was helping to string lights for a play for fifth graders, said Karla Comey faculty administrator at the school.
“He was incredibly generous with a lot of humility,” Comey said, adding that Sheffer was well known to the students.
On Monday, Comey was informing parents of the loss. As well as being an asset to the Waldorf school, Sheffer was a good friend, Comey said.
“We love him dearly and send him on his way with love and gratitude and light,” she said. “We will miss him. I feel really grateful for the time I got to know him.”
Said Vallario, “It’s just a loss overall for the community. He’s done so much; his helicopter service has provided so many things.”
He called Sheffer a “top-notch pilot” who played a crucial role in search-and-rescue operations.
“I can comfortably say we’ve found a lot of people we may not have found without Doug’s help,” he said.
Reporter Amy Hamilton contributed to this report.