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Navy Copter May Have Hit Power Line

February 19, 1998

JOHNSONDALE, Calif. (AP) _ A Navy helicopter that crashed in a central California forest while on a search and rescue mission, killing four people, may have gone down after clipping power lines, investigators said today.

Rescue workers returned to the steep, rocky Kern River Canyon today to search for a fifth person who was missing and believed to be on board the Huey.

The helicopter from the China Lake Naval Weapons Center burst into flames Wednesday afternoon near the Kern River in the Sequoia National Forest.

An unidentified witness said in a 911 emergency call that the helicopter hit a power line, then crashed into the side of the canyon. Power went out to a nearby hamlet about 11:40 a.m., shortly before the crash was reported.

``Usually, when you hit a wire, you wipe out,″ Kern County Fire Capt. Pat Schreffler said. ``Helicopters are a more fragile aircraft than people realize.″

Due to the steepness of the canyon walls at the crash site and the turbulence of the rain-swollen river, rescue workers said recovering the bodies would be tricky work. Light snow and overcast skies greeted workers who arrived this morning.

All the victims were Navy personnel from China Lake, about 60 miles east across the Mojave Desert from the crash site. Their names were not released.