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Sunday, September 14, 1997 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Search Ends For Missing Hiker -- Experts Arrive To Investigate Searchers' Chopper Crash

Seattle Times Staff Reporters

PORT ANGELES - The search for a 73-year-old hiker missing for a week was suspended last night, a day after the crash of a rescue helicopter killed three people and injured five in the Olympic National Park.

Crews yesterday recovered the bodies of the helicopter pilot and two passengers from the wreckage at the 5,000-foot level of Mount Baldy, 20 miles south of Port Angeles.

Air-safety investigators arrived in the area and were to visit the crash site today, but it was not known how long it could take to determine why the Bell 205A-1 helicopter crashed shortly after lifting off from a mountain clearing.

Meanwhile, officials said the chances of finding John Devine of Sequim alive have dropped sharply as snow and cold have swept through the mountainous area. A park spokeswoman said rangers on routine patrols through the area would continue to search for Devine, but the formal search has ended.

Killed in the helicopter crash were:

-- Kevin Johnston, 35, the pilot, of Springfield, Ore., a former flight instructor with an 18-month old daughter.

-- Rita McMahon, 52, of Aberdeen, a search volunteer who trained dogs to help with rescue missions.

-- Taryn Hoover, 31, of Waldron, San Juan County, a seasonal park employee who besides helping with searches worked in a spotted-owl survey in the park.

Reported in serious condition at Harborview Medical Center were Robert Feldmann, 27, of Mukilteo and Cynthia Stern, 24, of Port Angeles. Another passenger, Heidi Pedersen, 32, of Port Angeles, was in stable condition in Olympic Memorial Hospital in Port Angeles.

Two other passengers, Christopher Cantway, 26, of Port Angeles and David Leeman, 26, of Gold Bar, were released after treatment at Olympic Memorial Hospital.

The helicopter, owned by Heli-Jet of Eugene, was one of five helicopters used in the search for Devine. Friday afternoon, it was bringing down searchers who had been on the mountain for more than a day.

Barb Maynes, spokeswoman for Olympic National Park, said the chopper fell shortly after taking off from the mountainside.

The pilot made no report of trouble before the crash. The impact was heard by other searchers in the area, including an emergency medical technician who tended to the victims and radioed for help.

Pedersen, Hoover and Stern were seasonal park employees who, when not on a search mission, worked in a wildlife-management program to study the area's population of spotted owls.

Feldmann, Cantway and Leeman all had been working primarily as volunteers, paid an hourly wage during searches, but otherwise receiving a stipend to cover expenses while doing other tasks around the park.

Yesterday, a dozen searchers continued to patrol the Meuller Creek area looking for Devine, but they were brought out before dark.

"It's steep and rugged . . . the bushes are super thick and it's tough to walk down the drainages," said Jason Berry, 23, in his second year as a Park Service volunteer.

Sgt. Don Kelly of the Clallam County Sheriff's Office, which coordinated the search with the National Park Service, said the decision to suspend it was based on the presumption that Devine has not survived.

"If he was walking around up there, we would have found him by now," Kelly said. "And if he had fallen down and hurt himself, he probably wouldn't be alive."

The crash is being investigated by the National Transportation Safety Board, the Federal Aviation Administration, the Department of the Interior and a representative of the helicopter's manufacturer.

The modified Bell 205A-1 had been owned by Heli-Jet for about six years, said Charles Kimball, the company's senior project manager.

Heli-Jet provides aircraft for search-and-rescue and forest-fire missions as well as remote construction work and charter flights. Johnston has flown all those kinds of missions, Kimball said.

The Bell 205, out of production for more than a decade, is the most modern civilian version of the Bell Huey, which came into prominence during the Vietnam War.

The helicopter was designed as a medical transport craft, built to hold a pilot, medical attendant and 12 to 14 troops, according to Jane's All the World's Aircraft.

However, the 21-year-old Heli-Jet company had had the aircraft retrofitted, so it's unclear how many people it could have safely carried before the crash. The refurbishing included installing a larger engine and rotor system to provide better performance at higher altitudes, Kimball said.

Seattle Times staff reporters Jake Batsell, Charles E. Brown and Sally Macdonald contributed to this report.

Jack Broom's phone message number is 206-464-2222. His e-mail address is: jbro-new@seatimes.com

Sean Cavanagh's phone message number is 206-515-5688. His e-mail address is: scav-new@seatimes.com

Copyright (c) 1997 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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