Merrimac, WI helecopter crash, Jun 1984


AP, UPI, Special to The Journal

Baraboo, Wis. - Federal and local officials were at Merrimac Monday, seeking to determine the cause of a [sic] Sunday's flaiming helicopter crash that killed the pilot, a Sauk County deputy sheriff engaged in flights to aid the tornado-stricken Barneveld area.

The copter, buffeted by gusty winds, burst into flames in midair and crashed near the Highway 113 ferry landing at Merrimac.

The victim was identified as Sgt. Stuart J. Searles, 38, of Baraboo, who was preparing to land when the crash occurred.

Searles used the helicopter to take Gov. Earl over the storm area Friday. Sheriff Alan Shanks said the helicopter was landing to take him to help operate a communications facility at Barneveld.

Michael Anderson, a volunteer firefighter who saw the accident, said the craft's rotor blade seemed to bend in the wind, and that flames suddenly burst from a side of the helicopter.

"It looked like it was out of control," Anderson said. "It caught on fire right away, turned over on its side and crashed."

Skies were generally sunny, but vigorous winds had been whipping the area all weekend, he said.

"It was tremendously windy," said another witness, Mary Anne Bodine of Portage. "He was having difficulty in the winds.

"...He burst into flames in the air. The thing just blew around the air in flames."

She was among merchants operating a flea market at a restaurant parking lot. She said they ahd decided to close up shop because of the winds.

The helicopter crashed in a field near the intersection of Wisconsin 113 and Wisconsin 78 about 1:30 p.m.

Charred pieces of the craft were hurled 250 feet across the field.

The wreckage burned about 20 minutes before Anderson and other firefighters extinguished the fire.

Searles had been a deputy five years and was in charge of the jail in addition to being the department pilot.

He is survived by his wife, Rosemary, and two children. The Redlin Funeral Home in Baraboo said Monday morning that the funeral time had not yet been set.

The Milwaukee Journal, Milwaukee, WI 11 Jun 1984