This helicopter wreckage was loaded on a trailer hauled by Eagle Towing after it was recovered from an Oceana Co. swamp by White Lake Excavating. Photo from the Oceana County Sheriff's Dept.
wo companies with facilities in the White Lake Area combined operations to recover helicopter wreckage from a fatal crash in an isolated Oceana County swamp on Dec. 1.
Killed in the crash was 49-year-old Hart pilot Tom Slocum. A passenger, Matthew William, 28, also of Hart, was injured and was carried from the crash site near Walkerville. He was treated at a Grand Rapids hospital.
Hired by the Slocum family to recover the Bell helicopter, were White Lake Excavating in Whitehall Township and Eagle Towing which has a facility on Old 31 in Montague Township.
A representative of White Lake Excavating, on the phone last week, said the operation was challenging because of the remoteness of the crash site, and the swampy soils. It took workers at total of 24 hours over a two day period, Saturday and Sunday, Jan. 5 and 6.
The crash site was in the Manistee National Forest near 184th Avenue and Polk Road, but the recovery team has to cross private property. The representative said workers set up a staging site in a field off an old county road, but had to cut an 1,800 foot long road to get to the swamp. That involved removing some small trees.
Once in the swamp, a mini-excavator was used to pull a large sled made of two five-yard dumpsters bolted together. The dumpster also carried equipment used on the recovery such as a generator to operate a jackhammer to free the wreckage from ice and operate machinery to clean up oil.
To navigate another 1,800 feet in the swamp, 4’ x 12’ oak mats were placed on the ground to float and the excavator traveled on them. The movement was slow as the mats were moved every four feet.
Once the small helicopter was pulled from the ice, it was placed on top of the dumpsters and carried out the same way the excavator came in.
Once the helicopter wreckage was returned to the staging area, it was located on a trailer and hauled by Eagle Towing to the Oceana County Airport for further investigation.
The recovery team needed permission from the U.S. Forest Service, and the White Lake Excavating representative said the timing of the effort was key because the frost in the ground made it possible to cross the swamp.
The National Transportation and Safety Board and the Federal Aviation Administration is continuing an investigation into the cause of the crash.
Oceana County Sheriff’s Lt. Craig Mast previously said it is suspected the a mechanical failure led to the crash, but the exact cause has not been determined.