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Wednesday, February 14, 2018, 13:37
Leaping elk crashes low-flying research chopper in Utah
By Associated Press
Wednesday, February 14, 2018, 13:37 By Associated Press

In this photo taken on Feb 12, 2018 and provided by the Wasatch County Sheriff's Office is a research helicopter that was brought down by a leaping elk in the mountains of eastern Utah. Wasatch County authorities say the elk jumped into the chopper's tail rotor as the craft flew low, trying to capture the animal with a net. (JARED RIGBY/WASATCH COUNTY SHERIFF'S OFFICE VIA AP)

SALT LAKE CITY — An elk leaped into a research helicopter that was trying to capture it and brought down the helicopter in a collision that also killed the elk, authorities said Tuesday.

The state-contracted Texas-based crew was trying to capture and sedate the elk and give it a tracking collar to research its movements

The elk jumped into the chopper's tail rotor as the aircraft flew about 3 meters above ground in a mountainous part of eastern Utah, with its crew trying to drop a net on the elk, said Jared Rigby of the Wasatch County Sheriff's Office.

The two people on board weren't seriously hurt, but the elk died of its injuries Monday afternoon.

The state-contracted Texas-based crew was trying to capture and sedate the elk and give it a tracking collar to research its movements in the area about 145 kilometers east of Salt Lake City.

Helicopters are a frequently used and essential tool for monitoring remote wildlife in Utah, said Mark Hadley with the state Division of Wildlife Resources.

The tracking collars help wildlife officials monitor elk migration paths and survival rates. The state captures about 1,300 animals each winter, almost all using helicopters, and Tuesday's downing of the helicopter was the first accident of its kind, he said.

The crew had launched a net it catch the animal, but when that didn't immediately work the pilot started to slow down so someone could jump out and hobble the elk, Hadley said. As the helicopter slowed down, the elk collided with the rotor, Hadley said.

This Feb 12, 2018 photo provided by the Wasatch County Sheriff's Office shows a research helicopter that was brought down by a leaping elk in the mountains of eastern Utah. (JARED RIGBY/WASATCH COUNTY SHERIFF'S OFFICE VIA AP)

The helicopter was damaged on its tail rotor, right skid and underside, Rigsby said.

State officials will review the incident that appears to have been a fluke accident, Hadley said.

Environmental groups have protested the use of helicopters to monitor wildlife.

The group Wilderness Watch is objecting to a plan to study mountain goats using helicopters in a central-Utah wilderness area, calling the aircraft "unnecessary intrusion into some of our most treasured lands," according to the Deseret News.

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