Helicopter crash in South Rifle area sends two to hospital, touches off brush fire

Air crew was checking Xcel power lines for future repairs

Federal aviation inspectors have been called in to investigate a Saturday morning helicopter crash south of Rifle that sent the two occupants to the hospital and touched off a small brush fire.

Rifle Police Chief Tommy Klein said the crash was reported at 7:36 a.m. Saturday by a couple who were passing by on nearby Interstate 70 and witnessed the crash.

The two-person helicopter went down just inside Rifle city limits, beneath the Xcel Energy power lines south of Airport Road and the Colorado Mountain College Rifle Campus.

Xcel Energy spokeswoman Michelle Aguayo confirmed that the helicopter was carrying a third-party subcontracting crew that was taking pictures for future work on the lines.

“What we know is the two crew members were taken to the hospital for observation,” she said in an emailed statement. “Our thoughts are with the crew members and their families. We will be working with officials in their investigation.”

The pilot and a passenger, both males, were reportedly able to get out of the wrecked chopper before it erupted in flames, Klein said. They were transported to Grand River Hospital for treatment. An update on their condition was not available as of Sunday evening.

Klein said it was a smaller two-person private helicopter, but couldn’t say what type. Investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board and Federal Aviation Administration arrived on the scene Saturday afternoon and will conduct the formal accident investigation.

Also on scene initially was Rifle Garfield County Airport Director Brian Condie, as well as officers from the Rifle Police Department and Garfield County Sheriff’s Office. Colorado River Fire Rescue wildland fire crews were able to contain the resulting fire following the crash, according to a Sheriff’s Office press release.

Burning rubble from a helicopter crash south of Rifle that sent two people to the nearby Grand River Hospital early Saturday, July 11, 2020.
Courtesy GCSO

Helicopters are commonly used to conduct power line inspections, often with infrared photography to check for trouble spots. 

A fatal helicopter crash in the Divide Creek area south of Silt in January 2014 also involved a crew that was inspecting power lines for Holy Cross Energy. The crash killed all three people on board, including longtime Holy Cross employee Larry Shaffer from Rifle, HotShot Infrared Inspections worker Christopher Gaskill of Aurora, and longtime area search-and-rescue and work-for-hire helicopter pilot Doug Sheffer.

Power outage in Carbondale

About the same time Saturday morning, Xcel Energy reported a power outage affecting parts of Carbondale. The incident was not related to the helicopter crash, but was due to animal contact at a transformer, Aguayo said.

The outage was reported at 7:31 a.m. and caused 70 customers to lose power. Service has since been restored, she said.

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