SPOKANE, WA – A private helicopter flying under contract with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) for a mule deer study crashed Saturday, Jan. 27, in Garfield County, killing one member of the crew and injuring two others.
The Washington State Patrol confirmed today that the crash took the life of Benjamin M. Poirier, 19, Berthoud, Colo., a crew member in the helicopter. The pilot, Blake Malo, 33, Clarkston, and the third crew member, Garrett Bradshaw, 30, Eagle Point Ore., were taken from the crash site to St. Joseph Regional Medical Center in Lewiston.
All three men were employed by Hells Canyon Helicopters, which operated the aircraft.
“This is a tragic accident that will be deeply felt not only by the families but by members of our own staff who have worked with this dedicated crew,” said WDFW Director Jim Unsworth.
Kevin Robinette, regional WDFW wildlife manager, said the accident occurred about 20 miles northwest of Pomeroy, where the helicopter crew was working with ground-based state biologists to capture and attach radio collars to mule deer to study the animals’ movement and survival.
Robinette said Saturday marked the first day of fieldwork in the Blue Mountains, where biologists plan to eventually collar up to 50 deer, said. WDFW staff monitored the operation from the ground and drove a fuel truck to support the flights.
On Saturday afternoon, a WDFW biologist alerted law enforcement officials when a smartphone app tracking the flight showed the aircraft had stopped moving, Robinette said.
The crash is being investigated by state and local law enforcement agencies and the National Transportation Safety Board.
Robinette said the contractor recently completed similar work in the Okanogan region of north-central Washington, where the crew attached collars to about 80 does during several days of flying.