Helicopter pilot walks away after hitting power lines

From The Wenatchee World

ORONDO — A pilot walked away without injury after the Bell 206 helicopter she was flying hit high-tension power lines June 17 while drying off cherries.

“She did a good job of setting it down,” Orondo Fire Chief Jim Oatey said. “Tangling with those lines, you would expect more of a catastrophic accident.”

The accident was in an orchard about four miles south of the Beebe Bridge. It was reported at 6:39 a.m.

The helicopter was sitting upright when firefighters arrived. The tail section was broken and burns were visible on the sides where the power lines had arced.

The Douglas County Sheriff’s report identifies the pilot as Tori Duke, 25, of Mount Vernon. The helicopter belongs to North Wind Aviation in Chelan.

The aircraft was called into action Sunday morning to blow water off the cherries to help prevent damage from overnight rains, Oatey said. Cherries absorb moisture, then split when the sun hits them.

The accident cut power to substations that serve Bray’s Landing, Orondo, Waterville and the surrounding plateau, leaving about 2,000 without electricity. Most of the power was restored by 7:45 a.m., said Douglas County PUD spokeswoman Meaghan Vibbert. Power to about 180 customers in the Sun Cove area was restored about 9:15 a.m.

The power line that was hit is a Chelan County PUD transmission line that provides power to Douglas County PUD substations. It runs up the Douglas County side of the river from Rocky Reach Dam before it crosses to Chelan County.

“Our biggest concern was keeping people clear of the lines,” Oatey said. “We didn’t want to let anyone else get hurt. I noticed the PUD gave it a pretty wide berth, too. That’s a lot of voltage.”

The accident is being investigated by the Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board.

Responders included crews from the Douglas County Fire District 4 (Orondo), Chelan County Fire District 7 (Chelan), Lake Chelan Community Hospital EMS and Douglas County Sheriff’s Office.