FRUITLAND, Duchesne County — An elk acting unpredictably Monday led it its untimely demise and the felling of a helicopter Monday evening.
A helicopter crew that was contracted from Texas was flying low over a cow elk near Currant Creek in Wasatch County in order to catch the animal, check its health and release it back into the wild, according to Utah Division of Wildlife Resources spokesman Mark Hadley.
Wildlife officials were also trying to glean the migration paths the animals are using, where they spend time throughout the year and the habitats they're attracted to, Hadley said.
Typically, a crew member on the helicopter fires a net from a gun, the animal gets caught up in the netting and falls to the ground, according to Hadley. Then, the helicopter and a crew member will approach the animal and bind its legs so biologists can do their work.
On Monday evening, the elk didn't fall to the ground as the crew expected, Hadley said. Instead, it stayed on its feet and walked underneath the helicopter just as the pilot was pulling back to slow the aircraft down.
"The fact that the animal wasn't laying on the ground but was able to still stand, that put it at exactly the height of that rotor, unfortunately, because the helicopter was tilted a little bit," Hadley said.
He said the elk was killed instantly when it came into contact with the tail rotor. With the tail rotor out of commission, a helicopter can lose directional control. Fortunately, the pilot was able to put the helicopter down safely. It was damaged, but neither crew member inside was seriously injured.
Wildlife officials will review Monday's situation to ensure protocol was followed, see what procedures may need to be changed, and if the situation could have been prevented, according to Hadley.
"All indications are right now that this was just a freak accident," he said.
The helicopter crew was back on the job Tuesday.
The division typically captures 1,300 animals per season using the netting method, Hadley said and added that an incident like this has never happened in Utah.