A salvage team was working Thursday in the waters near Skagway to recover a TEMSCO helicopter from beneath 35 feet of water at low tide, according to a Federal Aviation Administration officer.
Jim Vuille, an FAA supervisor in the Juneau flight standards office, said the pilot for TEMSCO Helicopters did a good job of landing it on dry land Tuesday. But after the tide came in and submerged it, the helicopter didn't have to drift far to sink in deeper water.
He said the helicopter is anchored to prevent further drift and marked with buoys.
The pilot had to find a place to land near the Taiya Inlet, about four miles south of Skagway, because warning lights indicated a loss of power to the rotors, he said. Four passengers, from the Diamond Princess cruise ship docked in Skagway, were returning with the pilot from a flightseeing tour of nearby glaciers and mountains.
The pilot and passengers scrambled up the beach as the tide came in and submerged the helicopter. They were later rescued by lifeboats from the passing ferry Fairweather. No one was injured and the four passengers left Skagway on schedule on the Diamond Princess.
Tim McDonnell, vice president of tours and marketing for TEMSCO Helicopters, said the barge and salvage crew hired by the company were working on recovery Thursday afternoon.
"It may be lost for the year," he said of the helicopter. He said it would have to be thoroughly checked out before it would be put back into service.
Vuille said the salt water could do damage to the workings of the helicopter, which he identified as a French-built AS350 Eurocopter. The FAA will look to investigate what went wrong with the equipment, he said.
"The pilot did an excellent job," he said. The pilot found a flat, dry place to land where there was little flat ground. The area was heavily treed, limiting where he could land without hitting something with his rotor.
McDonnell said the helicopter has a replacement cost of about $1.6 million to $1.8 million. Its insured value would have depreciated with age, he said, adding that he didn't know how old it was.
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