2 men from NW in deadly Peru chopper crash

Credit: The Oregonian and Nancy Immel

Darrel Birkes, left, and Dan Immel died in a helicopter crash in Peru.


by KGW Staff and Associated Press

Bio | Email | Follow: @KGWNews


Posted on January 8, 2013 at 8:26 AM

Updated Wednesday, Jan 9 at 2:30 PM

LIMA, Peru — Seven employees of Portland-based Columbia Helicopters were killed in a Monday crash in a jungle area of Peru, including pilot Dan Immel, of Washington State.

Peruvian authorities said the heavy-lift chopper crashed Monday after taking off from the provincial capital of Pucallpa. 

Darrel Birkes, a native Oregonian and Sunset High School graduate, was among the victims.  He was the Senior Load Manager for Columbia Helicopters and had lived in Peru for the past 15 years.

More: Oregon native dies in Peru crash

Pilot Dann Immel of Gig Harbor, Wash., also died in the crash. He flew for logging companies and on firefighting efforts across the Northwest and the country before getting hired by Columbia Helicopters.

"He was a great pilot, husband and father," Immel's wife Nancy said Tuesday. "Safety came first before anything he did. He never compromised that."

More: Pilot in helicopter crash was from Wash.

Company president Michael Fahey identified the helicopter as a Boeing Model 234 tandem rotor, the civilian version of the military Chinook.  No passengers were on the chopper, which was involved in supporting petroleum exploration.

Columbia Helicopters announced a “safety stand-down” Wednesday, during which they will thoroughly inspect all the aircraft. They said it was a precaution, even thought no other problems have been reported with any aircraft. The Chinook helicopters will not fly until the inspection is done.

“This is a very sad day for Columbia Helicopters,” Fahey said in a statement. “We may operate globally, but we are still very much a family. The loss of our employees hurts deeply, and I knew most of these men personally. Our employees are grieving, and we are praying for the family members of the friends we lost.”

He said a team of company investigators has gone to Peru to work closely with authorities and witnesses.

Local police official Miguel Cardoso said Tuesday morning that three bodies had so far been recovered. He said it appears all of the victims had jumped from the chopper.

“We’ll do everything we can to determine the cause of the accident and remedy anything we become aware of, if there is anything," Fahey said. “And we’ll facilitate all of the programs to assist with grief counseling and benefits and life insurance and all those sorts of things, so the families know they are in our care.”

Fahey identified the employees who died as:

Dann Immel, Command Pilot (hometown: Gig Harbor, WA)
Igor Castillo, Copilot (Peru)
Edwin Cordova, Maintenance Crew Chief (Melbourne, FL)
Luis Ramos, Aircraft Mechanic (Peru)
Jaime Pickett, Aircraft Mechanic (Clarksville, TN)
Darrel Birkes, Senior Load Manager (Peru - native Oregonian)
Leon Bradford, Load Manager (Santaquin, UT)