JACKSON, Wyo. (AP) — As authorities scrambled to mount a rescue for a downed Teton County Search and Rescue helicopter Feb. 15, one team member was fighting a leg injury as he pulled his companions free of the wreckage.
Fire/EMS Chief Mike Moyer dragged pilot Ken Johnson and volunteer team member Ray Shriver from the mangled Bell 407 airship, sheriff's office spokesman Capt. Tripp Wilson and National Transportation Safety Board investigator Mike Huhn said Tuesday.
Shriver died as a result of the crash, which was reported just before 2 p.m. He was declared dead at a staging area later that evening.
A photograph of the wreck revealed that the airship was almost completely upside down and severely crushed.
The crash occurred 6.7 miles south of Togwotee Mountain Lodge while the Search and Rescue trio was en route to a reported fatal snowmobile accident.
"He did a fantastic job," Wilson said of Moyer. "I can't commend him enough."
Moyer and Johnson both used crutches to attend Shriver's memorial service Tuesday. Moyer wore a brace that extended from his ankle to his thigh. About 500 people attended the service.
At the time of the crash, Moyer was seated in the back of the helicopter, Johnson and Shriver in front, according to information from Huhn.
Moyer pulled Shriver out first, then Johnson. Shriver was alive when Moyer got him free, Huhn tells the Jackson Hole News & Guide (http://bit.ly/z8I2Jk).
Earlier that week, Shriver had urged his teammates not to whine about their tasks. As he lay dying, the search and rescue veteran stuck to his own advice.
"I hope I'm not whining too much," the mortally injured Shriver said, a colleague recounted at Shriver's service Tuesday.
Shriver died of internal injuries, Teton County Coroner Kiley Campbell said.
The three would-be rescuers left Search and Rescue headquarters by helicopter at 12:24 p.m. for the snowmobile mission, Wilson said. The snowmobile accident was about 35 air miles from the headquarters. A typical Bell 407 cruises at 150 mph; in theory, it could reach the site in about 15 minutes.
Rescuers later confirmed that snowmobiler Steven Anderson, of Morris, Minn., died of a broken neck after running into a tree.
The three rescuers flew over a group of snowmobilers apparently from the party in distress and landed to determine the accident site, Wilson said. The snowmobilers agreed to ride to the site while the helicopter followed. The two groups proceeded in that fashion.
Teton County Dispatch's last radio contact with the helicopter was just before 1 p.m., Wilson said. Radio and phone communication from the area of the snowmobile accident was on and off, so officials were uncertain about the finer points and times involved in the incident, Wilson said.
The snowmobilers watched the helicopter go over a ridge and disappear in a spin, Wilson said. They heard no crash or explosion and saw no flames or smoke.
That was reflected in a telephone call Wilson said the snowmobilers made at 1:50 p.m. A member of the party reported he had seen the helicopter spin and go down behind thick trees but was unsure whether it crashed or landed.
Whether they reached emergency operators immediately upon seeing the helicopter descend or had to first find phone reception remains uncertain almost a week later. Authorities said they lost radio contact with the helicopter for 45 minutes.
At 2:07 p.m., the dispatch center in Grand Teton National Park received a call from the sheriff's office.
"Teton Interagency Dispatch Center (TIDC) notified that TCSAR helicopter was out of comms and may have crashed, forest and park begin looking for helicopter to respond," park dispatch notes read.
At 2:14 p.m., park dispatch notes read, "going bad we have an aircraft down — We are not positive."
Eight minutes later, park dispatched confirmed two injuries and initiated "unified command with Grand Teton." At 2:27 p.m. Wilson confirmed with the park that the chopper had crashed, and 13 minutes later park ranger Chris Harder took the helm as incident commander, according to park records.
The medical helicopter from Eastern Idaho Regional Medical Center was down due to mechanical problems, so Portneuf Medical Center in Pocatello, Idaho, was called in, Wilson said.
Officials were scrambling to find someone to fly over or to the site, Wilson said. Civil Air Patrol began to aid the effort with a plane. A Wyoming Game and Fish helicopter was in the Gros Ventre River drainage and was pulled from duties there to look for the crash site, Wilson said.
High Mountain Heli-Skiing made its helicopter, owned by Helicopter Express, available at 3:25 p.m., park records show. At that time it was "going to hanger will meet a medic and fly up," the park dispatch timeline said.
The first ground responders arrived on snowmobiles at 4:22 p.m., park spokeswoman Jackie Skaggs said. There were five or six in that group: deputies, snowmobile guides, an EMS responder and perhaps a civilian.
The code for a fatality at the scene came over the dispatch radio at 5:13 p.m., according to park dispatch records. Although rescuers reported a death, they still sought a medical evacuation for the victim.
The Portneuf helicopter, presumably equipped with a stretcher, "cannot land at the scene," park dispatch notes state. Rescuers asked that the deceased be evacuated first, even if it meant transporting him in a helicopter seat instead of a stretcher, according to park records.
At 5:36 p.m. the High Mountain helicopter landed at the staging area near Togwotee Lodge, and at 5:38 p.m. pilot Johnson staggered out of the ship with help. Others swarmed to help him to an ambulance.
At about 6 p.m., a second helicopter landed and rescuers, with worry on their faces, carried Shriver to another ambulance. Moyer came out via snowmobile at about 6:30 p.m.
The investigation of what caused the crash is proceeding slowly but surely, Huhn said. Teton County Sheriff Jim Whalen said he thought the tail rotor might have failed.
Late last week, his team retrieved the tail of the helicopter and a few other pieces, a process that was more difficult than expected due to thick trees and high altitude, among other things. The rest likely will remain at Togwotee until Friday due to weather, he said.
Huhn has interviewed Johnson and Moyer, along with the two snowmobilers who called in the crash, and is planning to issue a preliminary factual report later this week.
For local authorities, their part in the crash investigation is over. Wilson is waiting for a report from Search and Rescue leader Doug Meyer.
The aftermath of the accident, and of losing Shriver, remains.
"The mood's somber, obviously," Wilson said. "It's a very close-knit organization. We've lost one of our own, so to speak, in a tragic accident, when he was volunteering to help people."
Information from: Jackson Hole News And Guide, http://www.jhnewsandguide.com