FAA says helicopter hit power lines, then crashed into South Umpqua

DAYS CREEK — A helicopter piloted by a Rogue River man struck power lines before it crashed into the South Umpqua River Monday, according to an accident notification posted by the Federal Aviation Administration.

The crash injured the pilot, Fred Wittlake, 55, and two Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife biologists who were conducting fish counts along the river.

The Bell Jet Ranger crashed into the river at about 11:40 a.m. within feet of the Tiller Trail Highway in the 13000 block.

Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife employees Holly Huchko, 34, and Eric Himmelreich, 35, were on board conducting fish counts in the river, ODFW spokeswoman Meghan Dugan said.

Huchko and Himmelreich were taken to Mercy Medical Center in Roseburg. Huchko was transferred to Sacred Heart Medical Center at RiverBend in Springfield, where she was in serious condition in the intensive care unit today, a hospital spokeswoman said. Huchko suffered a broken back, Dugan said.

Himmelreich was in good condition, a Mercy spokeswoman said.

Wittlake was airlifted from the nearby Days Creek Charter School football field to Sacred Heart, where he was in fair condition today, the spokeswoman said.

The helicopter is registered to Robert Ferreira of Ashland, according to the Federal Aviation Administration. Siskiyou Transportation and Timberland Helicopters are also listed as owners.

Ferreira said that Wittlake suffered a broken arm and ribs. "He's doing fine, laughing and joking," Ferreira said Monday evening from the hospital.

This morning, Ferreira said he didn't know what caused the helicopter to crash.

"We're still under investigation," he said. "We had an accident. The important thing is the people and that's what we're still involved in this morning."

The helicopter was removed from the water around 5:30 p.m. Monday. Ferreira said he expected the FAA to look at the aircraft today, then it will be destroyed and salvaged for scrap metal, he said.

— Roseburg News-Review, www.nrtoday.com

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