THE LOCAL NEWS OF THE MADISON VALLEY, RUBY VALLEY AND SURROUNDING AREAS

Plane crash south of Ennis, both passengers walk away

Observational flight used for monitoring grizzly bear activity

On July 17, an Aviat-1A Husky crashed into a meadow 35 miles south of Ennis. Allen Kenitzer, with the Office of Communications at the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), described this type of plane as a, “two-seat, high-wing, utility aircraft,” via email correspondence. Two people were aboard the plane at the time of the crash, including the pilot.

The passengers consisted of a contractor hired by the United States Geological Survey (USGS), who was also the pilot, and a scientist working for USGS. “They’re part of our annual surveys of population monitoring of the Greater Yellowstone Grizzly Bear. (It is) one piece of data used in annual monitoring,” Suzanna Soileau, outreach coordinator with USGS, stated. 

Annual reports from these observational flights are added to the USGS website by the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee (IGBC), which provides reproductive rates of grizzlies, data that estimates survival and annual mortality levels and estimates the current population of the bears. It is, “perhaps the largest collection of scientific information on any bear species in the world,” the website explained.

The Husky took off around 5:00 a.m. and crashed shortly after 8:00 a.m., Joe Brummell, Deputy Director of Emergency Management in Madison County explained. “Essentially they were doing observations, looking for grizzly bears, and they were taking a turn to look back because they saw a sow and three cubs, and some of the winds coming off the mountain essentially just forced the plane down,” he provided.

In terms of injuries, the contractor took a little bump to the head, according to Brummell, but was Emergency Medical Technician trained and knew how to respond to injuries. Once the plane crashed, it was engulfed in flame, but the passengers were luckily able to get out. The scientist on board attended the Aviation Accident Report in Bozeman on Tuesday.

Response time was speedy and efficient. The scientist with USGS had his cell phone on him, and hiked up to get better service to call in the crash. The contractor contacted a helicopter, and just as the helicopter reached the meadow, the fire crew arrived, the whole process taking just about an hour. The helicopter took the passengers to Bozeman Deaconess and arrived after 11 a.m. Since the meadow was on federal land, the Beaverhead/Deer Lodge fire crew from the Madison District responded to the scene. “(It was a) good learning curve, unfortunately. Actions happen like that and kind of test your capabilities,” Brummell pointed out.

The crash remains under investigation, which the National Transportation Safety Board will lead.

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