Journalist says chopper had "rest stop" on mountain
The helicopter carrying Chris Verbiski that crashed on a mountain earlier this month was stopping for a pee break, says a reporter who covered the story.
Verbiski and three other occupants of the helicopter, including a six-month-old girl, were lucky to survive when their helicopter crashed November 6 on the west end of Ptarmigan Peak, near Yellowstone Park. They were at an elevation of 11,900 feet.
Don Amend, a reporter with the Tribune in Powell, Wyoming, said the pilot told investigators that he was attempting to make a "rest stop" on the mountain.
"That was what he (the pilot) told the investigators," Amend said. "They were taking a rest stop on top of this mountain."
Amend agreed that, if correct, this would be odd, "given that they were maybe 15 minutes away from Cody, where they could have landed at the airport, used a clean rest room and bought a sandwich and landed on a nice flat field."
The pilot would also have been able to see "the northward valley called the Wapati Valley along the Shoshonee river which is fairly open pastures," Amend said, adding that questions are already being asked about why the pilot would attempt to land in such an inhospitable location.
"The investigation isn't completed yet but that's pretty much what we've heard from several sources, that the helicopter was not landing in a zone where it could safely land (in terms of elevation). The helicopter is certified to land at maybe a thousand feet lower than that another pilot told me that the helicopter shouldn't have landed at that altitude."
Furthermore, the helicopter landed in a protected wilderness area, Amend added. "If they were landing in an emergency, that's okay. But if he was landing intentionally, there's not supposed to be any motorized traffic in there, except in an emergency If they had to land because of mechanical difficulties, it's okay, but if they deliberately landed there, it's a violation."
The incident "seems like an odd situation," Amend said. "One of the helicopter pilots who was up there told me that where they landed was kind of steep and he is a little bit amazed that (the helicopter) didn't tip over and slide down the slope. He said he wouldn't have chosen that place to land."
Immediately after the incident occurred, I had an email exchange with Dewey Vanderhoff, a photo-journalist also in Wyoming.
"The wanting to pee' is a fact," he wrote. "That's what the pilot told the Sheriff... Maybe they did want to take photos or picnic about, but somehow I think the driving force was a frothy bladder... helicopters are not kind to kidneys, and they were 300 miles and some hours from their last touchdown. There's also the factor of the infant (read: diapers) and the puppy." (There was also a dog on board.)
The incident is being investigated by the National Transportation Safety Board and the Federal Aviation Administration.