(Photo: CT757fan/Getty Images)

Two National Guard Helicopters Crash near Utah’s Snowbird Ski Resort

Skiers out for a powder day watched in horror as two Black Hawk helicopters crashed near the Mineral Basin Express lift


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Skiers enjoying fresh powder at Utah’s Snowbird ski resort watched in horror as two Black Hawk helicopters from the National Guard crashed just beyond the ski area boundary on Tuesday morning.

The incident occurred just before 9:30 A.M., and videos and images of the incident flooded social media in the ensuing hours. The Utah National Guard later confirmed that the two UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters from the 2nd General Support Aviation Battalion had crashed during a training exercise.

None of the crew sustained serious injuries in the incident, officials said.

Skier Jacob Oster, 29, of Salt Lake City was riding the Mineral Basin Express chairlift with two friends when he heard the helicopters flying through the canyon. He turned around and saw the two aircraft slowly approach an open area of snow near the base of the lift and begin to descend.

That’s when Oster noticed that the operation didn’t appear to be going as planned. The helicopters kicked up huge plumes of powder that had fallen Monday night, and the aircraft quickly disappeared in a billow of snow.

“We heard this loud noise, like a bang, and then saw that the rear helicopter seemed to have crashed and we just saw rotor blades catapulting everywhere,” Oster said. “Pieces of [the helicopter] just went everywhere, and then we were just in shock. It felt surreal.”

His ski companion, Billy Halloran, caught the incident on video and they published it on Oster’s Instagram account.

Oster and his friends watched from the top of the lift as officials climbed out of the downed machines. Ski patrollers rushed to rope off the crash site, which was just a few hundred yards from the Mineral Basin Express lift line, he said. Patrol then funneled skiers up the Mineral Basin Express and Baldy lifts and shut down the Mineral Basin area.

“A lot of people saw it happen,” Oster said. “The rest of the day you heard people telling different stories of how it happened.”

During a press conference Tuesday afternoon, National Guard officials said that the crews experienced whiteout conditions just before the crash. After one helicopter impacted, its rotor flew through the air and struck the tail rotor of the other helicopter, causing it to crash as well. Images on social media showed one of the helicopters on its side and the other lying flat in the snow.

Oster said the National Guard’s explanation fit with what he saw with his own eyes.

“The snow was like chalk,” he said. “I cannot imagine they were able to see anything when they were trying to land.”

Officials said no skiers were injured, despite the crash site’s close proximity to the Mineral Basin Express lift. The National Guard has launched an investigation into the incident.

Jared Jones, the aviation public affairs officer for the Utah national guard, said in a press conference that the exercise was part of a routine training for helicopter crews.

“Both summertime and wintertime mountainous training, including dust and snow conditions, including, we call it full white out condition,” Jones said. “In combat, there are places you have to land sometimes that are that difficult and so we do train to that standard.”

Jones said although the landing zone was near the Mineral Basin Express, skiers were not in danger.

Oster said he saw debris from the helicopters shoot into the air during the crash, but the pieces luckily traveled away from the lift line.

“I was not prepared to see anyone die today,” he said. “All in all, things turned out.”

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Lead Photo: CT757fan/Getty Images