EAST WENATCHEE — One man was killed and another seriously injured Tuesday afternoon when a helicopter clipped a power line while attempting to dry off an East Wenatchee cherry orchard.
The accident occurred at about 3:20 p.m. Tuesday following a brief rainstorm. The helicopter was hovering over a cherry orchard between Rock Island Road and Highway 28 near South Mary Avenue when it apparently hit the Chelan County PUD power line and went down in the orchard.
“I gave him one of my arms to hold on to. It looked like he was pretty badly injured,” said Joe Ells, who lives near the accident site. Ells and Nathan Goforth said they had just left work when they heard the crash and ran into the orchard. Ells said he could tell the two men were seriously injured and that he shouldn’t try moving them from the wreckage. He said he could only reach one of the men. The helicopter landed upside down, he said, and the men were locked into their seatbelts hanging in the cockpit.
“I didn’t want to move them. There are people more qualified than me to do that. I just tried to hold him up and told him help was on the way. I hope he’s going to be alright. I’ve never seen anything like that before,” Ells said.
First responders arrived within five minutes of the crash, said Goforth.
Douglas County Sheriff Harvey Gjesdal this morning identified the two men in the helicopter as Andrew D. Ridge, 28, of Lewisville, Texas, and Jeffory C. Walker, 31, of Laredo, Texas.
Ridge, the passenger in the helicopter, was transported to Central Washington Hospital where he died from his injuries. Walker, the pilot, was transported to Central Washington Hospital and then to Harborview Medical Center. He was in surgery this morning and listed in serious condition, according to a hospital spokeswoman. No one else was injured.
Gjesdal said in a press release this morning that the helicopter was a 2005 Robinson model R44 II, registered to Reed Helicopters, in Laredo, Texas. The helicopter had been flying over the orchard when the main rotor clipped the power line about 40 feet above the orchard, causing the helicopter to crash, scattering parts through the orchard and residential yards nearby. The helicopter came down and was wedged upside down in a cherry tree when fire department and ambulance crews arrived.
Fire crews hosed down the helicopter and crash site. There was a fuel spill, but no fire.
The orchard is owned by Erick and Ann Sundstrom who live a short distance from where the helicopter went down.
“I was in the house and I heard the sound from the helicopter become very different. I was in denial. I thought, ‘No, that can’t be what I think it is,’” said Ann Sundstrom. She said her husband was outside and heard the crash but did not see it.
The couple had called in the helicopter to dry off the cherries after a brief but heavy rainstorm Tuesday afternoon. The helicopter was contracted by JR Helicopters out of Yakima, but operating locally during the cherry season, she said. She said she didn’t know either of the pilots.
Helicopters are routinely called in the blow moisture off cherries after a rainstorm. Nearly ripe cherries will absorb moisture faster than their skins can expand and split, making the crop worthless.
Fire crews blocked off South Mary Avenue and called in crews to service the 115,000-volt power line that was damaged, but not severed. Kim Craig, Chelan County PUD spokeswoman, said power from the line was immediately rerouted and did not cause any power outages. The line runs between Rocky Reach Dam and the PUD’s McKenzie substation, near Alcoa’s Wenatchee Works smelter, and provides power to South Wenatchee. Craig said crews will wait for the crash investigation to be completed before making repairs. The powerline was replaced a year ago during a $5.2 million upgrade.
Investigators from the National Transportation and Safety Board and Federal Aviation Administration are expected be at the scene today to determine the cause of the crash.
Rick Steigmeyer: 664-7151