'Copter crashes

FRYBURG -- A helicopter herding wild horses during the first horse roundup in four years for the Theodore Roosevelt National Park crashed in the late morning Thursday.

FRYBURG -- A helicopter herding wild horses during the first horse roundup in four years for the Theodore Roosevelt National Park crashed in the late morning Thursday.

Pilot Ted McBride with El Aero Service of Elko, Nev., and park wildlife biologist Mike Oehler were onboard the helicopter at the time and were the only ones injured in the accident. Both were sent in separate ambulances to St. Joseph's Hospital and Health Center in Dickinson Thursday afternoon.

"Both have minor injuries," park superintendent Valerie Naylor said Thursday afternoon. "We believe there was a gust of wind which affected the helicopter."

Witness Leo Kuntz of Linton, who has been to just about every horse roundup for the past 20 years, said he saw the skids of the helicopter catch on a fence post. The helicopter was flying low, getting close to a fence line which is about 10 feet high before it came down.

The helicopter was herding the third or fourth group of horses from a larger corral to a smaller one through an alleyway with fencing on either side. It turned and landed on the pilot side, throwing a rotor blade out into an open corral.


No one else was injured by the flying debris. Weather conditions included gusting winds and overcast with no sunlight or rain at the time.

"There will be an investigation into the accident by the Aviation Management Directorate from the Department of Interior," Naylor said. "The site is being protected for the person who comes to investigate. We don't know when they will be here or where they are coming from."

McBride has flown helicopters since 1955 and has flown at bison roundups for the Park Service in 2004 and 2005. Naylor did not know what procedure the pilot was following at the time of the crash as the helicopter got closer to the fencing around the corrals.

"You do what you have to do, but safety is our primary concern," Naylor said. "He (McBride) is a very experienced pilot and we take every precaution."

Oehler is one of several park staff who has been certified to be in a helicopter. The park has a safety plan on how to escape a crash, but the accident was quite a shock, Naylor added.

She talked to McBride and Oehler right after the crash and said they were responsive. Naylor did not comment further on what either man said about how the crash happened.

"We have used helicopters on roundups in the past and most recently for spraying weeds in the park," Naylor said. "It is cost effective and efficient."

Two Belfield ambulances arrived on the scene about 20-30 minutes after the crash, with two Billings County Fire Department fire trucks following shortly behind them to clean up any fuel spills. No smoke or fire came from the crash. Most of the park staff on site are certified medics and were able to attend to the victims immediately.


Several local police vehicles and a state trooper also were on the scene Thursday.

"The state is responsible to investigate all aircraft accidents," Naylor said. "To my knowledge, nothing like this has ever happened during a roundup before."

Most witnesses who had taken photos of the scene were asked to show them to officials for the investigation.

There were 29 horses in the smaller pen and about 25 remaining in bigger pens Thursday. The roundup was being done to cull 75 horses from the approximately 125 overall horses from the park's South Unit.

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