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Leaping elk crashes low-flying research helicopter


An elk leaped into a research helicopter that was trying to capture it and brought down the helicopter in a collision that also killed the elk, authorities said Tuesday.

The elk jumped into the chopper’s tail rotor as the aircraft flew about 10 feet (3 metres) above ground in a mountainous part of eastern Utah, with its crew trying to drop a net on the elk, said Jared Rigby of the Wasatch County Sheriff’s Office.

The two people on board weren’t seriously hurt, but the elk died of its injuries Monday afternoon.

A bull elk makes its way through the field as corn is harvested at the Kenison Farms in Levan, Utah, October 5, 2013. Tracking collars help wildlife officials monitor elk migration paths and survival rates. The state captures about 1,300 animals each winter, almost all using helicopters. (Jim Urquhart/Reuters)

The state-contracted Texas-based crew was trying to capture and sedate the elk and give it a tracking collar to research its movements in the area about 90 miles (145 kilometres) east of Salt Lake City.

Helicopters are a frequently used and essential tool for monitoring remote wildlife in Utah, said Mark Hadley with the state Division of Wildlife Resources.

The tracking collars help wildlife officials monitor elk migration paths and survival rates. The state captures about 1,300 animals each winter, almost all using helicopters, and Tuesday’s downing of the helicopter was the first accident of its kind, he said.

Elk Crashes Helicopter

Wasatch County authorities say the elk jumped into the chopper’s tail rotor as the craft flew low, trying to capture the animal with a net. The two people on board weren’t seriously hurt, but wildlife officials say the elk died of its injuries. (Jared Rigby/Wasatch County Sheriff’s Office via Associated Press)

The crew had launched a net to catch the animal, but when that didn’t immediately work the pilot started to slow down so someone could jump out and hobble the elk, Hadley said. As the helicopter slowed down, the elk collided with the rotor, Hadley said.

The helicopter was damaged on its tail rotor, right skid and underside, Rigsby said.

State officials will review the incident that appears to have been a fluke accident, Hadley said.

Environmental groups have protested the use of helicopters to monitor wildlife.

The group Wilderness Watch is objecting to a plan to study mountain goats using helicopters in a central-Utah wilderness area, calling the aircraft “unnecessary intrusion into some of our most treasured lands,” according to the Deseret News.

USA/

Elk are fed grass at Hardware Ranch outside the town of Hyrum in northern Utah, December 15, 2013. The 19,000-acre ranch is run by the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources and during the winter months feeds up to 600 head of elk. (Jim Urquhart/Reuters)



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