DAYS CREEK — Two state fish biologists conducting aerial surveys of salmon spawning grounds and their pilot were injured when their helicopter crashed in the South Umpqua River shortly before noon Monday, officials said.
Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife fisheries biologist Holly Huchko suffered a broken back and habitat biologist Eric Himmelreich broke two vertebrae in the 11:41 a.m. crash in the 1300 block of Tiller Trail Highway. Both were taken by ambulance to Mercy Medical Center in Roseburg, where they remained hospitalized Monday night, according to the ODFW.
The unidentified man who was piloting the Bell Jet Ranger was airlifted from the Days Creek Charter School football field to Sacred Heart Medical Center at RiverBend in Springfield, officials said.
Veteran biologists Huchko, 34, and Himmelreich, 35, were conducting fall chinook salmon spawning surveys in the South Umpqua by flying over the river in a helicopter contracted for the work, according to Larry Cooper, the ODFW's regional manager.
Days Creek resident Bob Danskin, who lives in the 1300 block of Tiller Trail Highway, said he heard the helicopter going "low and slow" along the river shortly before it crashed.
"Something didn't sound right. I heard a 'pop' and a 'bang' and then quiet," he said.
Danskin said he drove to the river and arrived about 10 minutes later. The helicopter was about 10 feet from the river back on the highway side and in waist-deep water, he said.
Two men were helping the occupants from the helicopter, Danskin said.
The crash brought down power lines, and fuel leaked into the river, officials said.
"There was a noticeable sheen of fuel in the river and smelled pretty bad," Danskin said.
The Federal Aviation Administration and National Transportation Safety Board have been notified, the sheriff's office said.
Days Creek Charter School closed its campus at lunch to keep students indoors while the helicopter landed and emergency vehicles were coming and going.
"We were made aware that helicopters were going to land on the football field," said Kim Dunn, the school's business manager. "We wanted to keep everything as controlled as possible."
Dunn said students usually walk to a nearby store to grab food around 12:30 p.m.
The first helicopter took one patient away just after the lunch period ended, and it was decided a second helicopter would not be needed, she said.
Pacific Power spokesman Tom Gauntt said the crash took down a transmission line. Some 320 customers in the Days Creek area were without electricity between 11:35 a.m. and 1:32 p.m., he said.