Helicopter Crashes, Man Dies During SE WA Deer Capture Operation

One man lost his life and two others were airlifted to a nearby hospital when their helicopter went down during a mule deer capture operation in Southeast Washington yesterday.

(TROOPER CHRIS THORSEN, WSP)

Benjamin Poirier, 19, of Colorado was identified as the deceased, according to local reports.

The other two were pilot Blake Malo, 33, of Clarkston and who is reported in critical condition and Garrett Bradshaw, 30, of Eagle Point, Oregon, who is reported in fair condition.

The crash occurred in Ping Gulch near Central Ferry in northern Garfield County around 2 p.m. on Saturday afternoon.

The three were initially identified as Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife staff, but were actually doing contract work for the state agency.

They were flying in a helicopter operated by Clarkston’s Kiwi Air, also known as Hells Canyon Helicopters. Malo is a co-owner.

The company does a lot of aerial netgunning for wildlife managers around the West, including deer, elk, antelope, moose, wolves, and more.

Once animals are captured, biologists take DNA samples, check on body condition and often put tracking collars on for research purposes.

Saturday’s capture operation had been announced last month, according to local reports, and before the helicopter went down five mule deer had been caught.

WDFW had hoped they could capture as many as 50 as part of a multi-year monitoring project. Agency staff were on the ground providing refueling and other support, and when a biologist noticed that the helicopter had stopped moving on a tracking system, local law enforcement officials were notified.

The crash is being investigated by the National Transportation Safety Board.

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