LIMA, Peru — A Gig Harbor man was among those killed in the crash of a heavily loaded U.S.-owned cargo helicopter that went down in the Peruvian jungle shortly after takeoff, killing its five American and two Peruvian crew members.
The tandem-rotor Chinook BH-234 chopper, owned by Columbia Helicopters Inc. of Aurora, Ore., crashed Monday near the provincial capital of Pucallpa.
Among the five dead Americans — all but one U.S.-based — was Dann Immel, command pilot, of Gig Harbor. Attempts to reach his family Tuesday were unsuccessful.
The helicopter was under contract for petroleum exploration support and was en route to a drilling location in northern Peru, said Todd Peterson, the company’s vice president of marketing.
The aircraft was carrying a sling load, an external cargo secured by cables, said Michael Fahey, the company president. He did not specify the cargo.
Witnesses quoted in local media reports said the chopper lost control and spewed smoke before crashing.
The Pucallpa airport control tower had its last contact with the aircraft about five minutes after takeoff, Peru’s civil aviation authority reported, and controllers saw “a big cloud of smoke” four miles northeast of the airport.
Three bodies were recovered Monday and three more on Tuesday, from inside the chopper’s charred wreckage, police commander Miguel Cardoso said. The three taken to the morgue Monday apparently had jumped from the chopper, as witnesses reported.
“They have different trauma,” Cardoso said. “It appears they jumped out of the helicopter out of desperation, because they have multiple fractures.”
Company officials said they had no immediate information on what might have caused the crash. They said a senior management team was headed to Peru to help local authorities in the investigation.
Peterson denied reports suggesting the aircraft might have been overloaded.
“I can say categorically that the aircraft was not overloaded,” he said, adding the load list was destroyed in the crash but company officials had a good idea of what was on board and believe the Chinook, combined with its load, weighed about 47,000 pounds. That would be 4,000 pounds less than its maximum gross limit. The helicopter weighs 21,000 pounds empty, Peterson said.