Fourth cherry chopper crash in four years

Fatal helicopter crash is fourth in four years drying cherries in Central Washington orchards.
Dan Wheat

Capital Press

Published on July 29, 2014 3:44PM

Last changed on July 30, 2014 11:36AM

Submitted photo
Kyle Mathison Orchard workers at scene of helicopter crash on Stemilt Hill, south of Wenatchee, Wash., July 23.

Submitted photo Kyle Mathison Orchard workers at scene of helicopter crash on Stemilt Hill, south of Wenatchee, Wash., July 23.

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WENATCHEE, Wash. — A helicopter crash that claimed the life of a pilot July 23 was the fourth crash in as many years for helicopters blowing rain water from cherries in Central Washington.

Tobey Vigil, 40, Beaverton, Ore., “died quickly from blunt force trauma” when the helicopter he was piloting crashed either on take off or landing at a refueling site at Kyle Mathison Orchards on Stemilt Hill south of Wenatchee, said John Wisemore, Chelan County undersheriff. The crash occurred at 2 p.m.

“We don’t know what happened. People heard the crash but no one saw it,” Wisemore said.

Vigil didn’t have a lot of hours flying and was working for Applebee Aviation of Banks, Ore., Wisemore said.

Another pilot was flying another helicopter for Applebee, also drying cherries in the area, he said.

It had rained that day, but was not raining at the time of the crash, Wisemore said.

The downdraft of helicopters blows water off cherries while they are still on trees. It minimizes water absorption by cherries that, combined with high temperatures, causes them to split and be ruined.

The Bell 206A Jet Ranger flipped onto its right side and went down. There was a small fire but Vigil was not burned, Wisemore said.

“It’s so sad,” said Kyle Mathison, orchard owner. He said Applebee was working for him and another grower in the area.

The Federal Aviation Administration and National Transportation Safety Board went to the scene, Wisemore said. The NTSB could not be reached for comment.

On June 24, 2013, a Bell Jet Ranger crashed while drying cherries in an orchard between George and Royal City. The helicopter became entangled in bird netting covering trees. The pilot freed himself from the wreckage and was taken to the Quincy hospital for back injuries. The same day a Manson grower, John W. Marker, died in a tractor accident using an empty air-blast sprayer to dry cherries in his orchard.

Marker had sued Golden Wings Aviation, Brewster, for breach of contract for failing to dry his cherries after the company’s helicopter crashed in a neighboring orchard on July 25, 2011, taking the life of the pilot. It struck power lines and the lawsuit alleged the pilot was text messaging on his cell phone at the time of the crash.

A passenger died and a pilot was seriously injured when a helicopter crashed while drying cherries in an East Wenatchee orchard on June 12, 2012. The helicopter’s main rotor clipped a power line, causing the crash, the Douglas County sheriff said.


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