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Helicopter down near Togwotee; two deaths involved

Feb 16, 2012 - By Christina George Staff Writer

Fremont County Search and Rescue personnel responded to the site of a helicopter crash Wednesday near Togwotee Pass.

One of the three Teton County men aboard the helicopter died in the crash.

The Fremont County Sheriff's Office received the initial call at 11:52 a.m. on Wednesday from the Togwotee Mountain Lodge about a 53-year-old man who had rolled his snowmobile. The man reportedly did not have a pulse.

Law enforcement dispatch in Lander transferred the call to Teton County authorities because the incident occurred within their boundaries.

Teton County government public information officer Charlotte Reynolds said a search team responded to the site via helicopter roughly 30 minutes later.

Upon landing at the scene, Teton County Search and Rescue confirmed the snowmobile rider, Steven Anderson, 53, of Morris, Minn., had died, Reynolds said.

She said the helicopter -- a Bell 407 Rotorcraft, according to the Federal Aviation Administration -- left the scene with plans to return with additional personnel. The snowmobile party, which consisted of Anderson's family and friends, remained on scene.

After liftoff the helicopter proceeded south when it appeared to experience difficulties and went over a ridge, disappearing out of the snowmobile party's sight, Reynolds said.

The party contacted Teton County dispatchers to notify them of the situation.

Reynolds said radio contact with the helicopter was lost for about 45 minutes. At that time, another Teton County search-and-rescue team began assembling to provide a ground response.

At 2:16 p.m., Teton County requested assistance from Fremont County Search and Rescue for a possible downed helicopter.

When emergency personnel re-established radio contact, the helicopter crew members confirmed they had crash-landed.

According to the Fremont County Sheriff's report, the helicopter crashed about 6.32 miles south of Togwotee Pass. A Fremont County ambulance crew was on standby near milepost 11 on U.S. Highway 26.

"Two deputies also went up and did traffic control," Fremont County Sheriff's Capt. Dave Good said.

Reynolds said Teton County search-and-rescue member Ray Shriver, 63, died in the crash. She said the pilot and another crew member were transported to St. John's Medical Center in Jackson for treatment.

The pilot was confirmed to be Ken Johnson, but the identity of the second man has not been released.

Fremont County Search and Rescue crew member Bill Lee of Lander said he assisted with the incident in a peripheral manner.

"I helped with getting things organized," Lee said.

Good, John Gookin, Jesse Lyles and Scott Berkenfield departed Lander's Hunt Field Airport in a helicopter and headed to the incident command post set up at Togwotee Mountain Lodge.

Gookin said he did not have details about the snowmobile wreck because the Lander team only responded to the helicopter wreckage.

Gookin and the pilot flew to the scene of the crash and first attempted to rescue one of the crew members who had a broken leg.

"He refused transport and so we took the deceased out. He ended up riding out on the back of a snowmobile," he said.

Johnson, who Gookin said also had a broken leg, was flown out by another helicopter.

"Kenny Johnson is very reliable mountain pilot," he said.

Because it was getting dark, Gookin said the Lander crew members released their helicopter pilot. The team stayed on post to debrief before returning home with a sheriff's deputy.

"We got back home around 10," Gookin said.

He said weather conditions during the rescue were fairly clear, with light snowfall later on in the evening.

"There were 30 or 40 rescuers there," he said. "It was a huge operation."

The operation included personnel from Grand Teton National Park.

Once all helicopter victims were evacuated from the scene, Teton County officials shifted the focus to the site of the initial incident.

The cause of both crashes remains under investigation, Reynolds said.

"The FAA and NTSB (National Transportation Safety Board) have been contacted and will be investigating the helicopter crash," she said.

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