A Bell helicopter chartered by the Alaska Department of Natural Resources crashed into a lake about 50 miles south-southwest of Utquagvik on Thursday, claiming the lives of all four individuals onboard.
The accident occurred near Wainwright, and the victims were three Division of Geological and Geophysical Survey employees and the pilot, who were engaged in fieldwork in the area.
The incident came to light when the three DNR employees conducting fieldwork failed to check in as expected on Thursday night, leading to the initiation of a search and rescue operation by the Alaska Department of Natural Resources, in coordination with the North Slope Borough Department of Search and Rescue, and the Alaska Department of Public Safety.
During the search and rescue effort, helicopter debris matching the description of the overdue aircraft was discovered in a shallow lake. The wreckage was later confirmed to be that of the missing helicopter, a Bell 206, which had been operated by Maritime Helicopters Inc.
The division has been preparing to do sand and gravel research in the Point Lay area west of Wainwright, starting July 22 through Aug. 3, according to its communication to the Point Lay community. A Point Lay barbecue and science open house at the Point Lay Kali School was planned for July 24 with the scientific team doing the work in the area.
The division’s field team consisted of four geologists, and scientists from ASRC Energy and a geology consulting company. The ties with the University of Alaska Fairbanks scientific community are strong with the research team.
The National Transportation Safety Board has launched an investigation into the crash.
According to a statement released on Maritime Helicopters Inc.’s website, the company confirmed the accident’s outcome and expressed deep sorrow over the loss. The names of the pilot and passengers have been withheld until their next of kin can be notified.
File photo from Division of Geological and Geophysical Survey, State of Alaska. This story will be updated.