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06 December 2023

5 Americans among 7 dead in Peru crash of helicopter owned by Oregon company


Investigators picked through the wreckage Tuesday of a U.S.-owned cargo helicopter that crashed in the Peruvian jungle, killing its five American and two Peruvian crew members.

The heavy-lift, twin-rotor Chinook BH-234 chopper, owned by Columbia Helicopters in the Portland suburb of Aurora, Oregon, crashed Monday shortly after taking off from the provincial capital of Pucallpa bound for Tarapoto.

Witnesses quoted in local media reports said it lost control and spewed smoke before crashing.

A local police commander, Miguel Cardoso, told The Associated Press that three bodies were recovered Monday and two more had been located inside the chopper's charred wreckage.

He said it appears the three taken to the morgue on Monday had jumped from the chopper, as witness reported.

"They have different trauma. It appears they jumped out of the helicopter out of desperation because they have multiple fractures," Cardoso said by phone.

Columbia Helicopters' executive vice president, Peter Lance, said from Oregon that the five dead Americans were U.S.-based employees of the company from different parts of the country. He declined to immediately identify them, pending notification of next of kin.

Lance said he had no immediate information on what might have caused the crash, adding that the company had dispatched its own investigative team. He was asked about local media reports that the aircraft might have been overloaded.

"That's all speculation," said Lance, saying the company is "very careful about not overloading our aircraft."

Lance said the helicopter had been contracted by Canada-based Talisman Energy Inc., though he was not sure if it was on a mission for Talisman or if the company had subcontracted it.

A spokeswoman for Talisman, Veronica Bonifaz, said the chopper was not transporting cargo or personnel for it at the time of the crash. She said she had no more immediate information.

A spokesman for the airport authority in Pucallpa, Dan Vela Diaz, told the AP that he had no manifest for the aircraft because it had only landed in Pucallpa to refuel.

Columbia Helicopters has been in business for 55 years and Lance said it has been operating in Peru for more than a decade, primarily contracted to companies, like Talisman, engaged in oil and gas exploration.

The Chinook that crashed was one of two helicopters Columbia has in Peru.
Lance, who said he has been with Columbia Helicopters for 33 years, said it has been at least a decade since a company aircraft crashed.

In addition to petroleum exploration, Columbia Helicopters also provides services to industries including logging, construction and fighting wildfires, according to its website.

It bills itself as "the only operator of the commercial models of the CH-47 Chinook and H-46 Sea Knight helicopters."