SitNews - Stories in the News - Ketchikan, Alaska


Moose takes on helicopter -- both lose
Anchorage Daily News


March 06, 2007

ANCHORAGE, Alaska -- A routine flight to tag a cow moose took a bizarre turn when the tranquilized animal charged the tail section of a hovering helicopter, collided with the rear rotor and brought down the aircraft.




The injured animal was euthanized at the scene.

The incident happened near the southeast Alaska town of Gustavus Saturday afternoon, and baffled officials with the Federal Aviation Administration and the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

"I have never personally seen or heard of an injury of this type, caused to an animal by an aircraft," said Doug Larsen, regional supervisor for the Division of Wildlife Conservation. "It just had to be one of those quirky circumstance."

Neither the pilot nor biologist Kevin White, who was aboard the helicopter, was injured. But Larsen said the moose was hurt badly enough - its snout collided with the chopper's tail rotor - that it had to be put down by White. Biologists typically use a lethal injection to euthanize moose, Larsen said.

White was aboard a Hughes 369D helicopter, owned and operated by Temsco Helicopters. The identity of the chopper pilot wasn't immediately available.

Ketchikan-based Temsco provides flightseeing trips, charter services, and also contracts with government agencies. Larsen said the company has worked closely and successfully with the Division of Wildlife Conservation on outings to collar moose and capture brown bears.

Larsen said the chopper was negotiating "a pretty confined area" and following the tranquilized moose, which White had shot with a dart, so it wouldn't slip into a tight space or, worse, collapse in water and drown.

White bet the cow would head for open space. But close to losing consciousness, the moose did just the opposite.

"As the animal got closer and closer to going down, an animal sort of loses its thinking - its ability to rationalize what's in its best interest," Larsen said. "Apparently at that point the moose ... decided to come toward the helicopter."

The Division of Wildlife Conservation has paid special attention to moose around Gustavus, a tiny town about 48 miles northwest of Juneau in the St. Elias Mountains. It sits on the north shore of Icy Passage and is otherwise surrounded by the 3.3 million-acre Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve.

Rapid glacial retreat cleared the way for moose migration from the Haines area to Gustavus in the mid-1960s. The population has thrived.

Scientists wonder if the environment in Gustavus can sustain such a dense moose herd. They've killed cows and adjusted the harvest limit of moose that can be killed during annual hunts, and studied the implications of these population tweaks on the overall herd over time.

To learn more about the moose, biologists collar some animals to monitor their movements.

That was the mission on Saturday: Tag the moose.

White, the biologist, did not respond to messages left on his cell phone. But Larsen spoke with White on Saturday night, and had a handle on how the events unfolded.


Anchorage Daily News reporter Katie Pesznecker can be reached at
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