Era Helicopters suspends Juneau flights after crash

Injured pilot's condition improved from critical to serious

The pilot flying the helicopter that crashed Thursday on Norris Glacier near Juneau was in serious medical condition as of Friday afternoon.

 

Thirty-nine-year-old Jiri Hanis was in the intensive care unit at Seattle’s Harborview Medical Center, according to spokesperson Kim Blakeley.

Hanis was the only person in the Era Helicopters helicopter when it went down around 2:05 p.m. near a dog mushing camp run by Alaska Heli-Mush. He was making a supply drop for the camp, said Era spokesman Tim O’Leary, who’s based at the company’s headquarters in Houston, Texas.

“Era has temporarily suspended flights out of Juneau but it’s too early to anticipate the impact, if any, on Era’s flightseeing,” O’Leary said on the phone Friday morning. He said Era made that decision after the crash.

Hanis was rescued off the glacier by a Temsco Helicopters helicopter and Capital City Fire/Rescue’s air rescue team.

Hanis had crashed near the base of Guardian Mountain on Norris Glacier, according to a CCFR news release.

“A private dog team company that was working at the glacier performed the initial medical treatment,” it stated.

Hanis was transported to Juneau’s Bartlett Regional Hospital, where he was listed in critical condition, and was then medevaced to Harborview Medical Center at 7:20 p.m. Thursday.

Era is part of the Era Group. According to its website, it’s the longest serving helicopter provider in the industry. The company’s primary business is transporting personnel to oil and gas fields in Alaska and the Gulf of Mexico. For flightseeing, it offers tours in Denali National Park and Juneau.

In Juneau, Era is located on North Douglas Highway and provides transportation to sled dog tours. It usually offers flightseeing tours of the Juneau Ice Field and nearby attractions.

O’Leary said, system-wide including Alaska, Era has had no safety issues through all of 2014, 2015 and, until yesterday, through 2016.

In 2013, an Era helicopter crashed near Grand Lake, Louisiana, during a maintenance flight. All three occupants died.

Weather conditions near Norris Glacier on Thursday were unfavorable but not “abnormal,” according to National Weather Service Forecaster Kimberly Vaughan.

The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the accident, said investigator Michael Hodges.
“We’re waiting for favorable weather conditions to begin recovery operations,” Hodges, who’s based in Anchorage, said at 5 p.m. Friday. He said he still doesn’t know if he’ll be traveling to Juneau to do an on-site examination.
NTSB is planning to have a preliminary report ready in five to 10 days.

• Contact reporter Lisa Phu at 523-2246 or lisa.phu@juneauempire.com.

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