Investigators are trying to discover what caused an American owned helicopter to crash into the Peruvian jungle Monday just minutes after it took off an airport in the country’s southern region, killing all seven people aboard, including five Americans.
The Boeing Chinook BH-234 helicopter, usually used to haul cargo in military operations, was contracted to provide support for a petroleum exploration operation in northern Peru, where it was headed. The crash killed the commanding pilot, Dann Immel, Washington state; maintenance crew chief Edwin Cordova of Florida; mechanic Jaime Pickett of Tennessee; load manager Darrel Birkes of Oregon, and load manager Leon Bradford of Utah. Two Peruvians identified as co-pilot Igor Castillo and mechanic Luis Ramos, also died in the crash.
The helicopter was owned by Columbia Helicopters, Inc. of Aurora, Oregon, a 55-year-old company that contracts its aircraft to oil and gas exploration, logging operations, firefighting missions, and other purposes. A company official told the Associated Press that Columbia Helicopters also has been operating in Peru for more than a decade.
The company strongly denied local rumors that the helicopter was overburdened. According to company officials, the Chinook was hauling a sling load, which is suspended beneath the craft by cables, but said the cargo was substantially thousands of pounds under the maximum gross weight limit.
Witnesses told Peruvian media that it appeared the pilot lost control of the helicopter and that it billowed smoke before it crashed.
According to the Associated Press, a local police commander reported that three bodies were recovered from inside the downed aircraft on Monday, while three others recovered on Tuesday had apparently jumped from the helicopter before it crashed.
“They have different trauma. It appears they jumped out of the helicopter out of desperation, because they have multiple fractures,” the police commander told the Associated Press.
National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) officials haven’t yet decided what role they will play in the crash investigation. Because the incident occurred on foreign soil, NTSB wouldn’t be able to lead an investigation.
Columbia Helicopters has since grounded its other six Chinook helicopters, in operation in various parts of the world, until they are deemed mechanically safe.