Gig Harbor pilot among 7 dead in helicopter crash in Peru


by Associated Press and KING 5 News

Posted on January 8, 2013 at 7:10 PM

Updated Tuesday, Jan 8 at 7:34 PM

LIMA, Peru —Seven employees of Portland-based Columbia Helicopters are among seven people killed in a crash in the Peruvian jungle. Five of the seven victims were Americans, including Dann Immel, a pilot from Gig Harbor.

Immel, a longtime Columbia Helicopters employee, was the command pilot on board the heavy-lift chopper when it crashed Monday shortly after taking off from the provincial capital of Pucallpa. 

Immel taught others to fly at the Tacoma Narrows Airport.

"He actually gave me my first helicopter flight lessons. Just a great guy," said Drew Vickers, who owns an aircraft maintenance business at the Tacoma Narrows Airport with Ben Olson.

"He wasn't a cowboy pilot, he took it very seriously," said Olson.

Friends say Immel would stop by the shop when he was home from Peru.

"He was actually thinking about quitting at times because it was so dangerous," said Vickers.

Immel wasn't just a pilot. He leaves behind a wife and a son, and he was a huge Seahawks fan.

While watching Sunday's game on TV in Peru, Immel was texting back and forth with his wife in Gig Harbor. It's one of the last memories for his wife of more than 30 years.

“This is a very sad day for Columbia Helicopters,” company president Michael Fahey said in a prepared statement. “We may operate globally, but we are still very much a family. The loss of our employees hurts deeply, and I knew most of these men personally. Our employees are grieving, and we are praying for the family members of the friends we lost.”

Fahey identified the helicopter as a Model 234 tandem rotor. No passengers were on the chopper, which was involved in supporting petroleum explorations.

Local police official Miguel Cardoso said Tuesday morning that three bodies have been so far been recovered. He said it appears all jumped from the chopper.

Fahey identified the employees who died:

Dann Immel, Command Pilot (hometown: Gig Harbor, WA)
Igor Castillo, Copilot (Peru)
Edwin Cordova, Maintenance Crew Chief (Melbourne, FL)
Luis Ramos, Aircraft Mechanic (Peru)
Jaime Pickett, Aircraft Mechanic (Clarksville, TN)
Darrel Birkes, Senior Load Manager (Peru)
Leon Bradford, Load Manager (Santaquin, UT)