Firefighting helicopter crashes, one soul lost

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A helicopter crashed at the Anderson Airport near Mile 280 of the Parks Highway on Sunday. The 1960 Bell 204B “Huey” was operated by Northern Pioneer Helicopters and on contract with the Department of Natural Resources when it crashed while landing at the airstrip’s helipad. 

The pilot and helicopter were assisting with fire fighting operations on the Clear Fire (Forest Fire 346). 

The pilot and sole occupant was 56-year-old Douglas Ritchie of Wasilla. Ritchie’s remains were sent to the state medical examiner for autopsy. No foul play is suspected and family was notified. The National Transportation and Safety Board was notified and are responding to conduct an investigation.

“Wildland firefighters and aviators are a close community and are in support of the family, friends, and co-workers during this tragic time,” the AKFireInfo website reported.

“We cannot overstate the danger of fire season in Alaska. Tragically, over the weekend, we lost a brave Alaskan who was part of our state’s effort to combat the Clear fire in the interior. We thank Douglas Ritchie for his service, and pray for his family,” said Gov. Mike Dunleavy on Monday.

There are 26 staffed fires across Alaska and close to 700 firefighters assigned to fight them. A high pressure system has settled over the state, bringing with it hot, dry and windy conditions. This weather pattern is forecast to continue through the week and be followed by a series of thunderstorms.

8 COMMENTS

  1. That chopper was older than the pilot who flew it. Vietnam War vintage bird used as air cavalry. RIP, sir, and thank you for fighting our fires.

    • BLM/ Alaska Fire Service still uses them as troop carriers. Iroquois. Dependable machines. Condolences to the family of Mr. Ritchie.

  2. Thank you for your service to the people Suzanne we appreciate you lots ma’am. All citizens who get involved to help others, to better our world to give of themselves for others that’s earth angels of another caliber. Thank GOD for them ALL. To die trying to help others that should humble ALL.

  3. From what little information I have heard (I know, I know) it sounds like the 42 degree gearbox let go.

    • UH-1 Bell first production line was in 1960, making this bird one of the first ever built. Army first used it for medical, then later as a troop carriers. This one was a civilian model presumably with lots of hours on it. The 42° gearbox is complex. Lycoming. 16,000 various versions were built, making it one of the most popular designs. 7000 were used in Vietnam, so this one probably never went overseas. Thank you for your service to fight Alaska’s fires, Mr. Ritchie.

  4. Thank you for your service, Douglas Ritchie – may you rest in peace – cradled by a loving God who loves those who help others. My prayers for his family and all of the fire fighters who risk their lives to fight the fires. God love them all!

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