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Bodies Recovered from Canadian Helicopter Wreckage in SE Alaska

February 9, 1990

WRANGELL, Alaska (AP) _ The bodies of five Canadian miners and a crewman were removed Thursday from the wreckage of a helicopter that crashed in a remote spot near the Canadian border.

A sixth miner and the pilot survived the crash, which occurred Wednesday on a frozen stretch of the Stikine River outside Wrangell in southeast Alaska.

The helicopter was bringing the miners to Wrangell after the weekly shift change at the Johnny Mountain gold mine, said Bill Price, president of Skyline Gold Corp., the mine operator.

The mine is in a mountainous area of British Columbia, about 55 miles east of Wrangell.

All of the victims were from British Columbia.

The cause of the crash had yet to be determined, but Wrangell residents said there were snow squalls along the river Wednesday.

Alaska State Troopers took a helicopter to the crash site Thursday and brought back the bodies to Wrangell, said Fire Chief Tim Buness.

Investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board were scheduled to arrive in the island town late Thursday, Buness said.

The helicopter was chartered by Vancouver-based Skyline, which uses Wrangell as a supply base for the mine.

It was on its second trip of the day bringing workers from the mine to Wrangell, he said.

The helicopter was due in Wrangell about 3 p.m. Wednesday, said Bob Prunella, the Wrangell agent for Skyline. When it failed to arrive on time, Prunella said he suspected the pilot might have landed on the river to wait out a storm.

″We had a lot of squalls going up the river all day,″ Prunella said.

A passenger on a second helicopter transporting miners spotted the wreckage on the river, Prunella said.

The survivors, miner Louie Gal and pilot Robert James, were in fair condition Thursday at Vancouver General Hospital, hospital spokeswoman Cynthia Rotta said. Their hometowns were unavailable.

State troopers identified them as miners Eric R. Budgell, 20, of Victoria; Milan O. Sopcak, 40, of Peachland; Stejepan Mikolcevick, 57, of Vancouver; Harry Nielsen, 57, of Gold Bridge; Jaroslav L. Maryska, 47, of Vancouver; and flight engineer Vance Schellenburg, 29, of the Peace River area.

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