Five Americans Among Seven Dead in Peru Helicopter Crash

Columbia Helicopters Inc. said seven employees died after one of the company’s cargo helicopters crashed in the Peruvian jungle.

Five American and two Peruvian crew members were killed after the tandem-rotor helicopter crashed minutes after taking off from Pucallpa airport yesterday afternoon.

The helicopter was working under contract to support oil exploration, Aurora, Oregon-based Columbia said in an e-mailed statement today. Company officials are headed to Peru to investigate the incident, according to the statement.

“This is a very sad day for Columbia Helicopters,” said President Michael Fahey in the statement. “We will work closely with all authorities and witnesses to conduct a thorough investigation.”

Bystanders reported seeing crew members throwing cargo from the helicopter as the aircraft spiraled downwards, La Republica reported. Three of the men jumped from the helicopter before it hit the ground and exploded, the Lima-based newspaper said on its website.

The helicopter, a Chinook heavy-lift Model 234, was carrying equipment to an oil drilling site in Peru’s northern Amazon jungle and was “absolutely not” over-loaded, said Todd Petersen, Columbia’s vice president of marketing, in a phone interview.

“The company has an excellent safety record, as does the aircraft itself,” Petersen said.

A group of senior management is scheduled to arrive in Peru today and will visit the scene of the crash on Jan. 10, he said.

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