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Chopper pilot dies drying cherries

Published on July 27, 2011 3:01AM

Last changed on August 24, 2011 6:58AM


Capital Press

CHELAN, Wash. -- The pilot of a helicopter drying cherries from rain in an orchard near Chelan died July 25 when the helicopter struck power lines and crashed.

His name was withheld pending notification of next of kin, but the pilot is believed to be a 24-year-old man from Indianapolis, Ind., said Detective Sgt. Jerry Moore of the Chelan County Sheriff's Office.

The helicopter caught fire upon impact and the pilot was badly burned, Moore said.

An autopsy was to be conducted, said Wayne Harris, Chelan County coroner.

It was the second helicopter belonging to Golden Wings Aviation, of Brewster, drying cherries that day to crash. A pilot and passenger in the first crash were not injured.

The fatal accident occurred at 2:38 p.m. in Purtterman Gulch on the north side of Lake Chelan about five miles northwest of Chelan.

The helicopter was traveling south to north and banked to turn back south at the end of the orchard when it struck two of four power lines about 50 feet above the cherry trees, Moore said.

"The rotors came to a complete stop and the helicopter came straight down. That's what a witness told us," Moore said.

It appears to be solely accidental but the National Transportation Safety Board and Federal Aviation Administration will investigate, Moore said.

The only witness, he said, was Vinicio Narraez, 44, Manson, an orchard worker driving a tractor about 20 rows from the crash.

The pilot had a passenger earlier in the day but the passenger, another pilot getting hours, departed at noon, Moore said.

"It's been a bad day. He was a great guy. It was the second year he worked for us," David Smith Sr., 69, owner of Golden Wings Aviation, said of the deceased pilot. He said the pilot was not married.

"Oh man, this is tough to take," Smith said.

It's the first time he's lost a pilot in the 41 years he's owned Golden Wings Aviation, he said.

The company had six helicopters drying cherries from Wenatchee to Omak when the first crash occurred in late morning in a Gebbers Farms orchard a couple miles north of Brewster, Smith said.

His son, Danny Smith, 38, was the pilot. Another pilot, building hours, was a passenger.

They couldn't get the power they needed to combat a severe downdraft of wind while staying clear of power lines, did a "controlled crash" and were not injured, Smith said.

The helicopters in both accidents were Korean War-era Sikorsky S-55s. The one in the fatality is a total loss. The other needs new rotors and is salvageable, Smith said.

David Smith Sr. and his other son, David Smith Jr., 44, a co-owner of the company, were also flying helicopters drying cherries that day.


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