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River rafters aid plane crash survivors

Emergency personnel along with members of the Carbon County Sheriff's Office board the Utah Highway Patrol's helicopter to be taxied into the Desolation Canyon region of the Green River. By the time local personnel reached the site, the U of U had already moved the victims.
Detective Roger Taylor and Capt. Guy Adams of the sheriff's office discuss their rescue plans on July 7.

Sun Advocate community editor

Two North Dakota men are recovering today after surviving a controlled crash landing in the Desolation Canyon corridor of the Green River. According to Capt. Guy Adams of the Carbon County Sheriff's Office, pilot Jon Bridewell, 57 and his brother Duncan Bridewell, 61 received life saving medical attention from two separate parties rafting the river in one of Utah's most remote areas.

"The scenario is really quite amazing," said Adams.

The sheriff's captain reported that Carbon County Public Safety Dispatch was notified at 12:40 p.m. on July 7 of a downed aircraft on the Green River. They were informed of two patients who had already been air lifted to the University of Utah via their Life Flight helicopter service. After determining that the crash had occurred within Carbon County's borders and learning that the crash victims had been air lifted out, the sheriff's office flew Detective Roger Taylor into the scene to investigate the cause of the accident.

According to Adams the plane went down at coordinates N 39º 38.500' W 110º 0.731' and burned six acres of the immediate area by igniting the surrounding vegetation.

After conducting an initial investigation of the scene, Taylor determined that the plane had been partially consumed by flames leaving the tail, fuselage and wings intact. He further noted that the passenger compartment of the plane was where the fire had started and where the flames were most intense.

According to the sheriff's official, Taylor along with Deputy Wally Hendricks of the Utah Highway Patrol were able to interview flight passenger Duncan Bridewell on July 8 to gain insight into the events leading up to and following the crash.

"Duncan reported that he and his brother had departed from Grand Forks, N.D. July 3 and proceeded to fly into Rawlins, Wyo. and then Prescott, Ariz.," said Adams. "On July 6 the pair refueled at the Canyonlands Airport and continued to fly up the Green River channel enroute to Casper, Wyo."

The pair were ultimately headed for Alaska, he said and were taking a slow, scenic route.

"As they were flying along the channel they realized that the aircraft was too heavily loaded with camping gear and because of a unforeseen change in air temperature they would not be able to gain the necessary altitude needed to clear the canyon walls," said to perform a controlled crash landing."

After locating an area that seemed close to the river channel and suitable for landing, the pilot reportedly began the plane's descent only to notice that moderately dense vegetation had concealed large boulders within the area, he said.

"The Bridewells crashed into the boulder field at approximately 1 p.m. July 6 and sustained significant injuries," explained Adams. "The passenger was not able to get out of the plane until his brother got out and helped him and together they fled to the top of a large boulder in order to escape a fire that had started immediately after the crash."

At this time, six river rafters spotted the injured pair and came to their assistance, helping them to escape the fire, continued the sheriff's office representative.

Shortly after that, a second group came down the river. The group included two emergency medical technicians with medical supplies.

"The second group helped to load the injured men onto rafts and moved them downriver to an area more suitable for attending to their injuries," said Adams.

"The Bridewells spent the night on the river bank in the care of the rafters and the next morning a third party showed up that included two nurses from Paso Robles, N.M. who provided further medical care and were in possession of a satellite phone.

The nurses made calls to their home hospital in New Mexico who contacted the U of U, prompting them to send out their rescue helicopter," pointed out the sheriff's office representative.

Adams reported that the county sheriff's office and search and rescue squad came together very well to take care of the situation.

The team was coordinated by Carbon emergency management director Jason Llewelyn, who set up a command post at the base of Whitmore Canyon in Sunnyside at the Bruin Point turnoff.

From there, the highway patrol was able to land and stage choppers for trips in and out of the river channel.

"These men were very knowledgeable about flying, in fact the pilot is a professor of aeronautics in North Dakota," noted Adams. "The weight of the plane and the change in temperature may have just caught them off guard and we are turning the case over to the Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board as an accident."

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