Utah County officials: Names of 2 victims in fatal helicopter crash to be withheld until ‘young family members’ notified

The inset file photo shows a helicopter of the same make and model as the the one that crashed in the Mountains northeast of Alpine Utah on Friday, May 18, 2019. Images: Wikimedia and Google Earth
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UTAH COUNTY, May 18, 2019 (Gephardt Daily) — The two victims of a fatal helicopter crash Friday in Utah County have been identified, but their names will not be released until Sunday morning at the soonest, officials say.

“The bodies of the two victims in yesterday’s helicopter crash above Alpine have been recovered and identified,” a tweet from Utah County Sheriff spokesman Sgt. Spencer Cannon says. The tweet was issued at 3:10 p.m. Saturday.

“We will not be releasing the names until at least tomorrow morning, 5/19/19, after young family members have been notified.”

The victims were in a four-seat Robinson R-44, and were flying west, from Vernal Regional Airport to South Valley Regional Airport in West Jordan, Federal Aviation Administration officials said.

The timeline

Utah County officials learned the helicopter was overdue after a relative of one of the people on the helicopter called Air Force officials to report the helicopter was overdue. Those officials contacted Utah County Sheriff’s Office, which mobilized multiple agencies for a search.

● At 6:13 p.m. Friday, Cannon tweeted to the media and public that the search was underway.

“UCSO SAR with airplane and DPS helicopter responding to report of overdue helicopter in mountains above Alpine.”

● At 7:07 p.m., Cannon tweeted that the “missing helicopter has been located,” offering no additional details. Soon after he posted that any drones or private helicopters in the area must leave.

“Drones and private aircraft must stay away or they may face criminal charges. Please comply!” he wrote.

● The next tweet, at 8:32 p.m. Friday, showed a map with the approximate location of the helicopter, on the mountain northeast of Alpine.

“The terrain is steep and rugged with heavy vegetation. NTSB & FAA will respond to conduct their investigations,” Cannon’s tweet said.

● At 9:16 p.m. Friday, the bad news was officially confirmed.

“There were two people on board the helicopter that crashed above Alpine in Utah County earlier today. Both were killed in the crash,” Cannon tweeted. “Their names will be released after families have been notified.”

Saturday update

On Saturday afternoon, Cannon told reporters that it was still unknown what caused the crash, but possible factors include mechanical or human failure, or complications from the stormy weather and high winds Utah County experienced that day.

Cannon said whatever the problem was, the rugged terrain offers a pilot in trouble very few options for an emergency landing.

“It’s a risky area,” he said.

The victim’s bodies have been taken to the medical examiner to determine cause and manner of death, Cannon said. With crash victims, the cause of death may seem obvious, he said, “but we want to make sure we don’t overlook anything.”

A medical crisis is among the elements that could be overlooked without a thorough evaluation.

Cannon said once the scene is fully documented, it will be turned over to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) for their investigations.

The NTSB is the lead agency, and it can take a year or more to get the final results of a crash report.

During FAA and NTSB investigations, local sheriff’s offices are often asked to secure the scene with guards, Cannon said. The Utah County Sheriff’s Office will do so if asked, Cannon said, but unlike crashes in the valley, the scene is very remote and hard to access by curious citizens, he said.

“The likelihood of anyone getting to the crash scene is extremely low.”

The map below, based on a graphic released by the UCSO, shows the approximate crash scene in relation to nearby cities.

The arrow on this map shows the helicopter’s approximate crash site, northeast of Alpine. Source: Google Earth

The file photo below, from Wikimedia Commons, shows a helicopter of the same make and model as the one that went down in Utah County.

This file photo shows a helicopter similar in make and model to the one that crashed in Utah County on Friday, May 17, 2019. Source: Wikimedia/Bidgee

The helicopter, a four-seat Robinson R-44, was flying Vernal Regional Airport to South Valley Regional Airport in Salt Lake City, the Federal Aviation Administration said.

The map below shows the helicopter’s take off and intended landing points, with the approximate crash site marked with a red dot between the two points.

Image: Google Maps

Gephardt Daily will have the victims’ names and more details on this developing story as information becomes available.

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