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Helicopter crash in Nelson, 1960

Updated: Jul 26, 2018

Kyle Kusch of the Arrow Lakes Historical Society just finished digitizing more than 800 slides from Wilf (Hufty) Hewat, a pilot and firefighter who lived most of his life in Kaslo until moving to Nakusp in the late 1960s.

Two of these shots, seen below, were labelled “Helicopter Mishap 9.4.60” and show a helicopter smashed to bits on the Nelson waterfront, about where the Prestige Lakeside Resort was built on fill in the 1990s. The top slide also shows the Ellison’s building at left. The building sporting flags is the old city hall, which was demolished a few months after this picture was taken. It’s now the site of Superior Lighting and Bath.

(Arrow Lakes Historical Society/Wilf Hewat fonds)

Fortunately Hewat dated the photo, because it made it easy to look up in the Nelson Daily News. This story, published on April 11, 1960, filled in the details.

Two escape injury in helicopter crash
Two men escaped with minor injuries at Nelson Saturday when the helicopter which has been based here all winter crash landed on the waterfront. It was extensively damaged.
The pilot, James O. Grady of Okanagan Helicopter Service, tried to land the machine on the city wharf road after it developed engine trouble. At low altitude, the aircraft was dangerously close to old sawmill piles jutting from the water close to the wharf.
He manouvered the helicopter on to the road, but it slid across, struck adjoining railway tracks slightly below the road, flipped, and dived onto the beach a few feet below, close to the water’s edge.
Grady and passenger Glen McEachern, shaken and bruised, managed to squeeze their way out of the wreckage. Both had bumps on their foreheads and Mr. McEachern had a small cut on his mouth.
Nearby observers, city police and firemen and an ambulance were on the scene quickly, but the two men did not require hospital attention.
Observers watching the helicopter as it was coming in for a landing said they heard the motor die. The machine was still travelling at considerable speed when it hit the roadway.
The helicopter, which has been servicing a BC Telephone Company micro-wave relay tower near Salmo, was valued at more than $30,000. [$258,000 today]
It is the third waterfront crash in a year. A short time ago a Cranbrook plane crashed while landing on the Nelson airstrip, and almost exactly a year ago a Vancouver plane turned over after landing on the strip. No one was seriously injured in either accident.

(I also recently wrote about the crash of an aircraft into Kootenay Lake in 1919, which ended up on a postcard.)

The newspaper published this photo of the crash on its front page:

After seeing this post, Brian Kirkham wrote in response:

Alan Olisoff (who has since passed away) and I managed to get a short ride on that helicopter the weekend before the accident. We figured we’d try and get another ride but the pilot said he had work to do. I believe the helicopter was running when they were refueling and we thought maybe dirt got in the fuel.  Anyway, we headed back east along the dump road and looked up when the helicopter started sputtering above the ground. He must have been about 100 to 200 feet above the ground. He came down slowly and hit the top of the boxcars and rolled onto the beach. We ran over to see if we could help out but they didn’t appear to be badly hurt. Just a bit of blood. We managed to get someone to call the ambulance and cops. Alan and I were both 13 at the time of the accident. We were interviewed by the Nelson fire chief at that time. All Alan and I could think of is how we could get that big plexiglass bubble off the beach and up the hill to Alan’s  house.

Meanwhile, Bob Butchart writes:

I grew up in Nelson during the ’50s and early ’60s.  When I was in my early teens (mid-’50s) I was down at the airstrip, which wasn’t paved then. 
This small single engine plane was about to take off, so I stood there with my bike watching it. When it took off I could hear the engine didn’t sound right.
Within a few seconds it started sputtering a bit and the pilot looped it around and was going to make a landing back on the airstrip. Well the plane fell short of the runway and ended up in the lake upside down beside some pilings. All I can remember was a couple of people got out and were soaked and shaken but I don’t think there were any injuries. This was at the end of the wharf. Maybe someone has some info on it. Just wish I had a confirmed date for it.

Can anyone help pinpoint this incident?

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