Helicopter Wreckage Nowhere To Be Found

Roosevelt Lake

Roosevelt Lake Photo by Andy Towle. |

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Efforts to recover a helicopter that crashed into Roosevelt Lake Dec. 7 have ended after multiple failed dives.

Gila County Sheriff’s Office dive teams scoured the bottom of the lake for more than a week, but found no sign of the 1,500-pound helicopter, which splashed into the lake during a sightseeing flight out of Mesa.

All on board survived with non-life threatening injuries, but the helicopter appears to have broken up, scattering wreckage.

Air Transport Manager Randall Jarman said searchers found no sign of the aircraft.

Jarman believes the wreckage lies buried in several feet of silt on the lake bottom. Crews had hoped to remove the helicopter for environmental reasons, but have called off the search.

The helicopter, leased by Sky Blue Helicopters out of Scottsdale, had taken off from a Valley airport just before 2:30 p.m. Dec. 7 for a tour of the area. Piloted by Fred Cleeves, 62, the Robinson R44 helicopter passed over Roosevelt with George Riedel, 64, and Julie Barba, 49, on board.

A Gila County sheriff’s detective who spoke with Barba later, learned the group wanted to fly over Young to get GPS coordinates for a later ATV ride.

The scenic trip was going smoothly until the helicopter got over Roosevelt Lake. Barba reportedly told the detective she was just about to comment on how low the helicopter was flying when it hit the water.

At that same time, Charlene Brown, a retired Payson police officer, had turned to her husband to say how low and fast the copter was flying over the middle of the lake. Just as she spoke the words, she heard the crash.

The Browns, along with several other anglers in the area, rushed to where the helicopter had crashed into the water and pulled all three passengers to safety.

Charlene dropped a buoy to signal where the copter had crashed.

The Browns pulled what they could out of the water, including the passengers’ personal items and the aircraft’s manual.

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