DAYS CREEK, Ore. — Three people are in the hospital after crashing in a helicopter into the South Umpqua River Monday.
Two of the people injured were biologists with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. They were conducting fall chinook spawning surveys when the helicopter crashed into the river.
ODFW says Eric Himmelreich broke two vertebrae but is doing much better as of Tuesday and could actually be released from the hospital Wednesday. He’s been with the department for about a year.
Holly Huchko went into surgery Tuesday afternoon to reconstruct a crushed vertabrae in her lower back. She’s been with the department more than 10 years.
ODFW says the two were looking for fish nests, called reds, in the river gravel. They count those reds three times a year to get long-term trend data.
“Our department is very close knit. We are definitely a family, and Holly and Eric are well loved and respected by their colleagues in the fish world and ODFW. So everybody is pretty shocked, and we are all pulling for them,” said Meghan Dugan, Public Information Officer for ODFW Southwest Region.
ODFW says both employees went through safety training before they could ride in the helicopter.
The Associated Press reports the pilot is 55-year-old Fred Wittlake and that he suffered a broken arm and broken ribs. He is also at RiverBend.