WHITEFIELD — A helicopter owned by a local business crashed Friday afternoon in this Lincoln County town, but the pilot escaped without injury.
The crash was reported shortly after 2 p.m. in a heavily wooded area off East River Road, near Clary Lake and Route 126. Maine Helicopters Inc., which owns the helicopter, is about a mile away to the south.
“It’s one of our aircraft,” said retired employee Andrew Berry, who answered the phone at the business Friday afternoon shortly after the crash. He said the company’s employees were on the scene immediately and there were no injuries.
Berry later identified the pilot as Mike Connolly, who he said had been flying alone from Bangor to the Whitefield company’s site, not far from the crash.
Berry said the company didn’t immediately know why the helicopter crashed. The Wiscasset Newspaper, citing a Lincoln County Sheriff’s detective, reported that the helicopter ran out of fuel, an assertion that could not be confirmed Friday.
A man listed as a Maine Helicopters contact answered his cellphone Friday night but would not comment on the crash.
“I don’t have anything with that right now,” he said. “I’m kind of busy with that myself now.”
The helicopter, a Bell OH-58A that is registered to Maine Helicopters Inc., is listed as having three seats. There were no other helicopters outside on the tarmac at the business on Friday afternoon.
Berry said the company uses the helicopters mainly to do flyover inspections of pipelines and power lines. The company has a fleet of seven helicopters, and besides line inspections, does emergency patrols, according to its website.
The helicopter landed on Kathleen Woodbury’s property at 100 East River Road.
“I heard him,” Woodbury said, “then complete silence, then a crunch.” She told her mother to call 911 as she jumped on her four-wheeler and sped down a narrow trail through the woods.
“It’s thick back there,” she said.
Woodbury found the helicopter upright on its skids and the pilot out of the helicopter, alert and walking around.
He walked the half-mile or more out of the woods to Woodbury’s house and was taken from her driveway by Delta Ambulance to MaineGeneral Medical Center in Augusta to be evaluated. Connolly was not listed as a patient there later Friday night, according to a hospital spokeswoman.
“He seemed OK,” Woodbury said. “He just hit his head.”
The helicopter was upright in the thick woods, rotor blades bent and the doors open. Woodbury said she didn’t know “how they’re going to get it out of there.”
The Federal Aviation Administration ordered the crash site closed, pending an investigation, according to Lincoln County Sheriff’s deputies who were leaving the site. A message left Friday night with the FAA wasn’t immediately returned.
Maine Forest Ranger Dan Skellin, one of about a dozen people, including firefighters and others who walked to the site, said he was checking to ensure that the helicopter was secured and all the systems were shut down.
“Somebody from the company was already on the scene and had done that,” Skellin said.
Whitefield Fire Department Capt. Tom Feeney said the pilot was lucky to walk away from the crash and handled the crash well. “He did a pretty good job.”