An Arctic fieldwork assignment for the Division of Geologic and Geophysical Survey of the Department of Natural Resources ended the lives of four on July 20, when their 1996 Bell 206 helicopter, owned by Maritime Helicopters, crashed into a tundra lake approximately 50 miles outside of Utqiagvik, near Wainwright.
After two days of intense search and recovery efforts, the bodies of the four were found and pulled from the shallow lake, which was about 8 feet deep.
At around 10:45 pm on Saturday, volunteers from the Alaska Dive Search, Rescue, and Recovery Team arrived at the crash site and began assessing the situation. The remote and challenging terrain added complexity to the rescue operations.
On Sunday morning, the dive team, aided by the North Slope Borough Police Department and Search and Rescue Team, started work, and successfully retrieved the bodies of four adults from the helicopter wreckage site.
The deceased were identified as 51-year-old Fairbanks resident Ronald Daanen, 27-year-old Fairbanks resident Justin Germann, 26-year-old South Bend, Indiana resident Tori Moore, and 48-year-old pilot and North Pole resident Bernard “Tony” Higdon.
The helicopter was on a mission to transport staff from the Alaska Department of Natural Resources while they conducted fieldwork in the area near Point Lay.
The exact cause of the crash remains unknown, and the National Transportation Safety Board has assumed the investigation responsibility to determine the factors leading up to the crash into the large, shallow lake.
Authorities have notified the next of kin, and the bodies of the deceased are being transported to the State Medical Examiner’s Office for autopsies. Efforts to remove the wreckage from the lake are underway on Sunday.
The Alaska Department of Natural Resources, Maritime Helicopters, and Alaska State Troopers are working closely with the NTSB to support the investigation.
Ronald Daanen, geologist, was with the Hydrology and Surficial Geology program, and an expert in old-climate hydrology, permafrost, vadose zone physical/chemical/biological processes, slope stability, programming and modeling, waste water treatment, drainage systems, groundwater resources, and water flow in snow, according to the division website.
Justin T. Germann was a hydrologist with the Hydrology and Surficial Geology program. He had a Ph.D., in water resource science from the University of Minnesota.
Tori J. Moore was a geologist, also with the division’s Hydrology and Surficial Geology program.
Bernard “Tony” Higdon was an U.S. Army veteran and helicopter pilot with Maritime Helicopters, with over 2,000 hours combined between the Bell 206, Bell 407, and EC145.
File photo from Division of Geological and Geophysical Survey, State of Alaska shows the actual helicopter that went down, and the type of work that was being done, but from a different trip.