The 1960 Bell 204B Huey crashed at the Anderson Airport’s helipad, Alaska State Troopers said. The 56-year-old pilot Douglas Ritchie from Wasilla died in the crash, according to troopers. No one else was in the helicopter at the time of the crash.
Ritchie’s death was the first wildland firefighting fatality in Alaska in over 20 years. The helicopter was operated by Northern Pioneer Helicopters and had been contracted by the Department of Natural Resources to help with wildland firefighting.
According to Clint Johnson, Chief of the National Transportation Safety Board’s Alaska office, the helicopter was taking off on a sling-load operation to bring equipment to the fire, when the crash happened around 07:30 hrs. The helicopter caught fire after the crash.
Investigators are at the scene
The wildfire, started by lightning last week, measured at more than 9,500 acres. Many firefighting operations paused Sunday night after the crash, said Sam Harrel, Information Officer with the Alaska Division of Forestry.
“We still needed firefighters in the field, we still needed dispatch and everybody to be in place should something else occur, we still needed to have other helicopters ready and on standby should they need to go, but we did take a pause there,” Harrel said. “We did take a moment and it’s just like any of us would, just take a safety moment and let’s think about what we’re doing, the reason we’re here doing it and how can we continue to do it safely?”
It’s too early to tell what may have caused the crash, Johnson said. Two NTSB investigators and a helicopter engineering specialist were dispatched to investigate the scene.
“The wildfire community, firefighters and aviators, we’re a pretty close-knit community and this hits us all hard,” Harrel added. “But we also realized what the mission is and the job that we need to focus on and get done.”