DENVER – Time after time, pilot Doug Sheffer set down his helicopter atop Colorado peaks, allowing rescuers to reach stranded hikers or mountaineers.
“There’s a number of people today who wouldn’t be alive had it not been for his skill and experience,” Jeff Edelson, a firefighter, paramedic and president of the volunteer Mountain Rescue Aspen group, said in an interview Tuesday.
A day earlier, Sheffer was killed on a more routine mission, helping a utility company survey power lines in western Colorado near his hometown of Rifle. The two other men aboard also were killed.
One of them was longtime Holy Cross Energy employee Larry Shaffer, utility spokesman Stephen Casey said. The role of the third man, identified by the Garfield County Coroner’s office as Christopher Gaskill, was not immediately clear.
Witnesses believe the helicopter snagged a line before crashing, sheriff’s deputy Walt Stowe said.
Casey said Sheffer’s helicopter was being used for surveying, which involved using infrared cameras to identify hot spots that could require further inspection.Casey said such aerial surveying is common.
The site of the crash along a road contrasts with the rugged, remote areas where Sheffer had flown rescue crews.
Edelson said Sheffer flew for Mountain Rescue Aspen for more than a decade. He took crews to spots that would’ve required half a day of hiking to reach.
Sheffer also helped with sheriff’s search and rescue operations in Garfield County, Stowe said, adding the pilot had more than 8,000 hours in the air.
Ron Vincent, a flight instructor from Glenwood Springs, taught Sheffer to fly planes in the 1980s. Vincent said Tuesday he had proposed teaching Sheffer to fly fixed-wing craft, then Sheffer suggested they also learn to fly helicopters, and Sheffer soon outstripped his teacher.
A desire to take part in rescue missions was part of what prompted Sheffer to learn to fly helicopters, Vincent said. Sheffer, a former ski instructor, went on to own his own helicopter company.
The company also flew photographers and cameramen such as Ron Chapple, who hired Sheffer for ski films and other projects. Chapple said in an interview he was working in Mississippi when he heard of Sheffer’s death, and learned his pilot there also knew Sheffer. The two pilots took a safety course together a decade ago, Chapple said.
“He hadn’t seen Doug in 10 years, and he was as moved as I was” about Sheffer’s death, Chapple said. “He was one heck of a pilot.”
Carla Comey, a friend of Sheffer and Sheffer’s wife, said that when he did speak of his work, it was not to brag about his exploits.
“What he liked to talk about was the joy of teamwork, of working with search and rescue teams,” said Comey, an administrator at a school Sheffer helped start when his daughter was young.
Sheffer remained involved at the school after his daughter finished the last year there, eighth grade, in 2002, Comey said.
“We’d have a storm, and he’d show up with his truck and shovel snow,” she said. “He deserves recognition. He was a shining example of generosity and community.”