Wyoming copter crash kills rescuer and snowmobiler

February 16, 2012 - 7:25 PM
HELICOPTER CRASH

Teton County Search and Rescue helicopter pilot Ken Johnson is assisted after being flown out of the Togwotee Pass back country in northwestern Wyoming near Jackson on Wednesday, Feb. 15, 2012. A helicopter crash in remote northwest Wyoming has killed one of the three people aboard who were trying to help a snowmobiler, and sheriff's officials say the snowmobiler also has died. The snowmobiler's party had called for help Wednesday. Teton County sheriff's officials say the helicopter had reached them but was leaving to get more help when it crashed on Togwotee Pass. They say 63-year-old rescuer Ray Shriver was killed, and the pilot and another rescuer were taken to a hospital. Sheriff's officials say deputies reached the snowmobilers after tending to the helicopter victims, but 53-year-old Steven Anderson of Morris, Minn., also has died. Details of what led his party to call for help weren't immediately available. (AP Photo/Jackson Hole News & Guide, Bradly J. Boner) MANDATORY CREDIT

CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) — Ray Shriver helped found a volunteer search and rescue group 19 years ago after he survived being buried in an avalanche. He even trained his own dogs for search and rescue missions.

On Wednesday, after participating in some 800 missions over the years with Teton County Search and Rescue, Shriver died when the helicopter he was riding in crashed while responding to a call for help from snowmobilers in the snowy, remote backcountry of northwest Wyoming.

The Federal Aviation Administration and National Transportation Safety Board are investigating Wednesday's crash of the Bell 407 helicopter in Teton County, FAA spokesman Mike Fergus said. A snowmobiler involved in a separate accident — the one the rescue team was responding to — also died.

The helicopter went down in a remote, wooded, snow-covered mountain area in the Bridger-Teton National Forest in northwest Wyoming. The area is about 30 miles northeast of Jackson and east of Grand Teton National Park.

It was the first fatality in the history of Teton County Search and Rescue, a mostly volunteer organization that began search and rescue missions in 1993, according to the group's president, Tim Ciocarlan.

"The worst thing that ever happened in 19 years is we broke a wrist. That was it," he said in a telephone interview.

Shriver, 63, of Jackson, died while the pilot and another member of the rescue team survived the crash. The snowmobiler, Steven Anderson, 53, of Morris, Minn., died of injuries he suffered when his machine struck a tree, authorities said.

Ciocarlan said Shriver had lived in Jackson nearly 30 years and was one of the original founders of Teton County Search and Rescue, which consists of 35 volunteers and one paid director.

"He was my hero," he said, choking back tears.

"One of the primary reasons he wanted to be on the team was that he was actually buried in an avalanche and someone dug him out," Ciocarlan said. "I think that was a life-changing event for him and he decided to pursue rescue and help folks that were in rescue type situations."

Ciocarlan said the pilot, Ken Johnson, 62, of Victor, Idaho, remained in St. John's Medical Center in Jackson on Thursday but was expected to be released later in the day.

The other rescuer, Mike Moyer, 44, of Wilson, was treated and released Wednesday night, Ciocarlan said.

"They were fortunate and were able to escape without significant injury," he said.

The helicopter was built in 2008 and is registered to Hillsboro Aviation, of Hillsboro, Wash. A company executive didn't immediately return a telephone call.

Officials said the helicopter crashed as it hovered in the area where the snowmobilers were located. It was searching for a landing zone at the time. Initial reports that the helicopter had landed and had just taken off were not accurate, Teton County spokeswoman Charlotte Reynolds said.

Sheriff's officials speculate that a failed rear rotor might have caused the crash.

Ciocarlan said the search and research team takes great care in preparing for a mission, including a risk analysis that determines the best way of conducting a rescue and the dangers rescuers face.

"We can't do everything and the fact the ship had a mechanical failure, who can see that coming?" Ciocarlan said.

Reynolds said it was unclear whether the snowmobiler died before or after the helicopter crashed.

Shriver was a county employee with the engineer's office, Reynolds said.

"This is definitely a blow to the search and rescue organization, to the Teton County organization as a whole as well as our entire community," Reynolds said. "As someone said to me this morning everyone in our community knows someone on search and rescue, so it's pretty tragic."

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Associated Press writer Dan Elliott in Denver contributed to this report.