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Federal report sheds new light on Alaskan helicopter crash that killed three scientists and pilot

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — A helicopter that crashed into Alaska’s remote and vast North Slope in July, killing three state scientists and the pilot, stopped transmitting flight status data to a real-time tracking system as it passed over the southeastern coastline. flew from Alaska. an Arctic lake, according to a preliminary report on the crash released Tuesday.

The Bell 206L-4 helicopter was later found fragmented and partially submerged in Lake Itinik, a large oval body of water that is 3 miles (4.83 kilometers) wide in places, according to the National Transportation Safety Board report.

There was no indication in the report as to what caused the helicopter to crash into the lake in clear weather. The cause is typically detailed months later, when federal investigators file their final report.

The helicopter’s final data transmission sent every three minutes indicated it was traveling in a northwesterly direction at an altitude of 144 feet (43.89 meters) above mean sea level at a speed of 107 mph (172 km/h), according to the report.

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The terrain around the lake is flat, featureless Arctic tundra. According to the report, the lake is 17.07 meters above sea level.

The July 20 crash claimed the lives of a pilot and three scientists from Alaska’s Department of Natural Resources, who work in the Division of Geological & Geophysical Surveys. The helicopter is owned and operated by Maritime Helicopters of Homer, Alaska. It had a contract to take science crews to various remote locations on the North Slope so they could do fieldwork.

The crash killed noted permafrost expert Ronald Daanen, 51, a native of the Netherlands who lives in Fairbanks; Justin Germann, 27, a North Dakota native who also lives in Fairbanks; recent Indiana University graduate Tori Moore, 26, of South Bend, Indiana; and pilot Bernard “Tony” Higdon, 48, of North Pole, Alaska. Both the chartered helicopter and state employees were based in Utqiagvik, the country’s northernmost community formerly known as Barrow, for the duration of the contract.

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On the day of the fatal crash, the helicopter and crew departed Utqiagvik just after 10am. Their route flew south about 60 miles (96.56 km) for a brief stop at the airport in Atqasuk, Alaska, then continued fieldwork. in remote locations east of the community of Wainwright. The report says the crash happened about an hour after they left Utqiagvik.

When the helicopter failed to return to Utqiagvik as planned that night, the North Slope Search and Rescue team launched a Sikorsky S-92 helicopter to search for the missing aircraft.

The wreck was found about 3:15 a.m. on July 21 in the shallow waters of the lake about 30 miles (48.28 kilometers) east of Wainwright, the report said. The bodies were removed on July 23.

The wreck was recovered from the lake on July 30 and taken by helicopter to Utqiagvik for examination. It was later taken to Anchorage where further investigations are pending.

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