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Helicopter pilot hurt in crash

A Central Point pilot was seriously injured during a helicopter logging accident that killed his co-pilot Sunday in the hills of southeast Tennessee.

The 33-year-old man, whose name was not disclosed, suffered severe injuries that included burns over 30 percent of his body during the crash that occurred shortly before noon Pacific time, authorities said.

The dead man was a Montana pilot, and both men were helicopter logging for the Carson Helicopter Services office in Grants Pass, said Steve Metheny, Carson's chief pilot in the Grants Pass office.

The two men were trading off operating the Sikorsky S-61A when they heard a loud bang and smoke while hovering about 200 feet off the ground, according to a Federal Aviation Administration report.

The helicopter then plunged to the ground, landing in a steep slope and triggering a fire that severely burned the wreckage, Metheny said.

Logging crews on the ground rushed to the wreckage and found the survivor conscious and lucid outside of the helicopter, said Metheny, who added that he did not know if he crawled out of the wreckage or was ejected.

He was carried on a stretcher to a landing 200 feet away, then airlifted by a helicopter ambulance to Chattanooga, in southeast Tennessee near the Alabama border.

The survivor was listed in serious condition Monday at a hospital in Chattanooga, where he was joined by his family.

It was the first fatal crash for Carson in 40 years, Metheny said.

This sort of thing just doesn't happen very often, and almost never to us, Metheny said.

Federal investigators on Monday told Metheny they do not believe pilot error or mechanical failure led to the crash. The helicopter was completely rebuilt in the mid-1990s.

There's a million theories going around right now, but we just don't know, Metheny said.

The pilots had been logging in Montana, but moved to Tennessee about a week ago because of bad weather in Montana, Metheny said. It was unknown Monday whether the helicopter had a log suspended from it just prior to the crash, he said.

The FAA and National Transportation Safety Board were at the scene investigating Monday, and pieces of the wreckage were sent to an Atlanta lab for analysis.

Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 776-4470, or e-mail