Copter pilot's condition downgraded to serious

A Rogue River pilot injured in a helicopter crash near Days Creek earlier this week has been downgraded from fair to serious condition.

Fred Wittlake, 55, suffered a broken arm and ribs after the helicopter he was flying hit power lines and crashed into the South Umpqua River Monday. He was airlifted to Sacred Heart Medical Center at RiverBend in Springfield, where he was listed in fair condition Tuesday. But by Wednesday, a hospital spokesperson said his condition was listed as serious.

The crash also injured two Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife biologists who were conducting fish surveys along the Umpqua. Holly Huchko, 34, remains in serious condition at Sacred Heart with a broken back, according to officials.

Biologist Eric Himmelreich, 35, was listed in good condition Wednesday morning at Mercy Medical Center in Roseburg, a hospital spokeswoman said.

The Bell 206B JetRanger crashed into the river at about 11:40 a.m. within feet of the Tiller Trail Highway in the 13000 block. The cause of the crash remains under investigation, but an accident notification posted Tuesday by the Federal Aviation Administration noted the helicopter struck power lines before it fell into the river.

National Transportation Safety Board spokesman Keith Hollow said he had no new information Wednesday about the crash.

Huchko has been with ODFW for 10 years, and Himmelreich has worked for the agency for just more than a year. Both work out of the Roseburg office of the Umpqua Fish District.

The helicopter is registered to Robert Ferreira of Ashland, according to the FAA. Siskiyou Transportation and Timberland Helicopters also are listed as owners. Ferreira is president of T L Forest Products on Dead Indian Memorial Road, according to state business records.

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