3 injured in helicopter crash in Uinta Mountains

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WASATCH COUNTY -- A Coast Guard helicopter crashed on a snowy ridge south east of Kamas Wednesday morning, injuring three people, two critically.

Wasatch County Sheriff Todd Bonner said the HH-60 Jayhawk helicopter went down in an area known as Silver Meadows, which is several miles north of Wolf Creek Pass in Wasatch County.

Search and Rescue crew member Buzz Burgener said the area where the chopper went down has a lot of peaks and valleys, and the aircraft got tossed around quite a bit.

"The seats, I guess, aren't supposed to come apart, and they did. So, they kinda got banged up in the cab, hitting each other, bouncing off stuff," Burgener said. "I guess that's how a lot of the injuries happened."

Burgener was told both helicopters were trying to hover, but one wasn't able to at that altitude.

"You get where you don't have that much air, and that happens," he said. "There were blades 100 feet up, clear in the pine trees; pretty bad, pretty bad accident."

After the crash, Bonner said people on the ground were able to use text messages to call for help. A second Coast Guard helicopter, which was in the area, was eventually able to land and pick up two of the more seriously injured patients.

Wasatch County Sheriff's Office spokesman Sgt. Jeremy Hales said two people are in critical condition, and a third is listed in serious condition.

  • Commander Patrick Shaw -- aircraft commander -- was taken to University of Utah Hospital and is listed in critical condition.
  • Lt. Commander Steven Cerveny -- the co-pilot -- was taken to a Park City hospital, then transported to University of Utah Hospital. He is listed in serious condition..
  • Petty officer Gina Panuzzi was taken to University of Utah and is listed in critical condition.
  • The other two people -- Petty Officer Darren M. Hicks and Petty Officer Edward Sychra -- sustained minor injuries and were brought out with the help of snowmobiles.

Right now, there's no official cause, but it looks like weather conditions played a huge role.

"Unknown for sure exactly why it happened, but from what I've been told, visibility, due to snow and wind, was very minimal," Bonner said. "They [were] flying a low height, and they just kind of banked in the wrong area -- didn't really see what was there apparently -- and into the pine trees."

Search and rescue crews responded from both S.R. 35 in Wasatch County and U-150 in Summit County. A crew from Wasatch County eventually spotted the wreckage from one of the groomed trails it was using to access the area.

A Coast Guard spokesman said the crew members were in Vancouver, providing support of the Olympics. They stopped in Utah to refuel and spent the night here.

The crew was on its way to Kansas, also to refuel, when the crash happened. They were expected to arrive back at their home base in Elizabeth City, N.C., Thursday.

The Coast Guard will be sending a team to Utah Thursday to conduct an investigation into the crash.


Story compiled with contributions from Marc Giauque, Sarah Dallof and Sandra Yi.


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