Body of skier found; helicopter crashes during search

No one injured in copter crash near Lizard Head Pass

The body of a New Mexico man was discovered Saturday near Lizard Head Pass by the San Miguel County Sheriff’s Office. During the search, a helicopter carrying four people lost power and crashed. No one was injured in the crash.

Robert Blake, 81, of Corrales, New Mexico, was staying in his vacation cabin in Dolores, and was last seen leaving his car on Lizard Head Pass about 2:30 p.m. Friday. He was reported missing by his wife, still in New Mexico, at around 9:30 p.m. Friday.

“He was at the cabin alone, but he talks to his wife every night,” San Miguel County Sheriff Bill Masters said Sunday. “When she didn’t hear from him, she called the neighbors, and they drove up to Lizard Head (Pass), found his car and called us.”

Masters served as incident commander for the search.

Search-and-rescue efforts were organized by both Dolores and San Miguel counties, because the area where Blake was last seen covered both. Combined searches with snow machines and foot searches were unsuccessful Friday night, according to the sheriff’s report.

Blake’s body was found at 11:39 a.m. Saturday by a member of a ground search team about three-quarters of a mile off the Colorado Highway 145, east of the parking lot on Lizard Head Pass, and about 200 yards into Dolores County. He appeared to have died of natural causes, according to the sheriff’s report.

“We have no indication of anything besides natural causes,” Masters said.

Blake’s golden retriever was found guarding his body in what was described in the sheriff’s report as a “protective state.” The report noted that coyotes were seen in that area the previous night. The dog was returned to the family.

During the recovery, the Classic Lifeguard helicopter, a Bell 407, contracted from Moab, Utah, carrying three Classic Lifeguard crew members and a San Miguel Sheriff’s deputy, lost power and crash-landed into trees.

“At almost the exact same time we found his body,” Masters said, “the helicopter on the Dolores county side (of the search) proceeded to loose power at an altitude of about 250 feet.”

The crash occurred about a half mile east of Highway 145, south of Lizard Head Pass. Crew members were picked up by other search-party members. Masters said all on board walked away from the crash, and they were later examined.

“The pilot reportedly did an excellent job maintaining control of the aircraft,” Masters said. “He had to put it down through some trees, landing it in a manner that didn’t cause injuries to passengers.”

“While it’s unfortunate that he victim did not survive, and we are saddened for his family’s loss,” Masters said in a released statement, “we are thankful that no rescuers were injured and that we were able to complete our mission.”

bmathis@durangoherald.com