Rocky Spencer v. Northwest Helicopters
Rocky Spencer, a very regarded wildlife biologist for Washington State, was killed on September 8, two thousand seven when a main rotor disc blade on a Northwest Helicopters Hughes five hundred struck him in the head and decapitated him. SKW’s aviation accident legal team represented the Estate of Spencer and Scott Spencer.
Rocky had flown bighorn sheep netting missions in the same Jet Ranger helicopter for twenty five years. He was fairly familiar with its dimensions and blade clearance. On the morning of September 8, 2007, a Northwest Helicopters pilot picked him up for sheet netting, but was using a different helicopter (Hughes MD 500, one thousand nine hundred seventy seven Hughes Model 369D) that, it turns out, had a lower rotor height.
The WA Department of Fish & Wildlife rules require that the pilot conduct a safety briefing for passengers who may exit the aircraft on uneven ground. Northwest Helicopters was, in fact, written up by the National Transportation Safety Board for the failure of its ACETA policy manual to provide any direction on pre-mission briefings, including how a gunner was to egress the helicopter. While the pilot of the helicopter thought that he mentioned that the Hughes was a little lower, an eyewitness stated that “[the pilot] did go over 99% of the safety things at site about the Hughes, but not the height difference” (emphasis added).
The Northwest Helicopters pilot put the helicopter in a toe-in position up against a hill, a disfavored hovering maneuver because of the reduction in front end clearance inbetween the ground and rotor blades, diminishing the safety zone as one proceeds toward the front of the ship.
Rocky had netted two sheep. The capture required a prompt response. He disembarked the left side of the helicopter and headed toward the netted sheep. Abruptly, and without any warning from the pilot, virtually invisible rotating blades struck Rocky’s forehead with such force that, even with his helmet in place, the top of his head was severed.
Rocky Spencer: One of WA State’s most respected wildlife biologists
In addition to his family, many in the Northwest news community had deep affection and respect for Rocky. Spencer had joined the WA State Department of Fish and Wildlife in one thousand nine hundred seventy eight and established himself as one of the state`s best wildlife biologists. He loved opportunities that permitted him to remind us that the animals were here very first, like the day he took a puny group to go after him track cougar kittens near Enumclaw.
After his tragic and untimely death, there was an outpouring of distress with hundreds of friends gathering to recall Rocky’s life and work. Gary Chittim, KING five environmental specialist, gave a moving speech at Rocky’s memorial service, closing with “Rest in peace old friend. We’ll all miss you.”
Liz Rocca of KOMO four News explained, “Rocky had a love for wildlife. You could feel it just being around him.”
Glenn Farley, KING five aviation news reporter, collective,