Elk, NM Customs Helicopter Crash, Aug 1986


Artesia (AP) -- Six law enforcement officers were injured, one of them seriously, in the crash of a Customs Service helicopter that was searching for a marijuana plantation in southeast New Mexico.
The pilot was the only officer aboard the aircraft who was not injured, authorities said.
Mike Fleming, spokesman for the U.S. Customs Service's regional headquarters in Houston, said an apparent mechanical malfunction led to the crash shortly before noon Friday. The UH-1M helicopter crashed about 52 miles west of Artesia.
All of the injured were transferred to St. Mary's Regional Health Center in Roswell in two other helicopters that were involved in the major drug operation search.
Sgt. PETER ROSS, 34, of Albuquerque, was listed in critical condition Friday with a broken neck, a broken left shoulder and left arm, broken ankles, a concussion and possible internal injuries.
The other officers were identified as Sgt. JERRY URBAN, 46, of Soccoro, and patrolmen JAMES COONS, 35, and ROBERT WOODS, age not available, both of Alamogordo. They were listed in fair condition at the hospital Friday.
Fleming identified the three Customs Service agents as RICHARD RUSTEMEYER, 37, an aviation group supervisor, WILLIAM LUCAS, 37, an air interdiction officer, and RALPH WHITE, who was piloting the helicopter. All three are from Albuquerque, he said.
Hospital spokeswoman Ann Ham said LUCAS and RUSTEMEYER were in fair condition Friday.
She said WHITE was not admitted to the hospital.
New Mexico state police spokesman Capt. John Denko said the four state police officers and three U.S. Customs Service agents were among 50 law enforcement officers involved in the operation.
Denko said the officers were searching for a large marijuana plantation in the area and that the operation was continuing with the remaining personnel.
Fleming said the New Mexico State Police and the Federal Bureau of Land Management had requested that Customs Service agents assist in a raid of a marijuana plantation about 50 miles west of Artesia.
Fleming said Customs Service helicopters from Albuquerque and El Paso, Texas, and a state police helicopter from Santa Fe were flying in formation when the accident occurred.
Denko did not disclose any more details about the narcotics investigation, but said the number of officers involved was a reflection of the size of the suspected drug operation.
He said the agents in the other two helicopters saw the crash of the third aircraft. The crash occurred near the villages of Elk or Mayhill on the eastern edge of the Sacramento Mountains in far southwest Chaves County.
The National Transportation Safety Board in Denver has dispatched an officer to the crash site, Fleming said. The U.S. Customs Internal Affairs Department also will investigate the crash, he said.

Roswell Daily Record New Mexico 1986-08-31