A preliminary National Transportation Safety Board report on a helicopter crash south of Silt last week that killed three people confirms eyewitness reports that the chopper struck an upper set of power lines before it crashed.
The Bell model 206L-3 helicopter, piloted by Doug Sheffer of Rifle-based DBS Helicopters, was performing aerial surveillance of Holy Cross Energy power transmission lines when the accident happened at 11:18 a.m. Jan. 27 in the Dry Hollow area about a mile and a half south of Silt.
Sheffer, a Basalt resident, was killed in the crash, along with longtime Holy Cross lineman and crew foreman Larry Shaffer of Rifle and Christopher Gaskill of Aurora, a thermographer who worked for Fort Collins-based Hot/Shot Infrared Inspections.
Sheffer and DBS had been contracted to assist Glenwood Springs-based Holy Cross in monitoring and checking for trouble spots on power lines within its service area.
The crew was performing infrared-camera inspections on a lower set of Holy Cross lines that run north-south, when the helicopter hooked what’s called a “static” line on a separate set of Xcel Energy power lines that run east-west across Dry Hollow Road, according to the preliminary report issued on Wednesday.
“Two parallel static wires ran from the top of each Xcel Energy tower to the next tower,” according to the report. “The helicopter struck the south static wire and subsequently impacted the ground.”
Static lines are used to diffuse electricity in the event of a lightning strike or power surge.
“A witness reported seeing the helicopter heading south just prior to the accident,” the report also states.
Prior to the crash, the helicopter crew had completed one round of inspections before Sheffer flew back to refuel at the Rifle-Garfield County Airport. It then returned to the area where the crash occurred.
The report does not indicate that there were any problems with visibility, winds or other weather conditions at the time of the crash.
It does state, however, that the Holy Cross contract required a video recording of the entire flight.
“During examination of the wreckage, two recording devices were found and retained for further examination,” the preliminary report states. “One of the recording devices had a secure digital (SD) memory card installed. The SD card slot of the other recording device was empty. A second SD card was not located during the wreckage examination.”
A final NTSB investigation report will be prepared but is not expected for several months.