Forest Service investigating helicopter incident in Bob Marshall Wilderness
This cell phone photo provided to the Hungry Horse News appears to show a couple who allegedly flew into the Bob Marshall Wilderness and landed on the South Fork of the Flathead River bank to do some fishing.
Hungry Horse News | May 28, 2020 9:22 AM
Two horsemen on a recent trip into the Bob Marshall Wilderness said they found something they never expected: A couple fishing on a sandbar of the South Fork of the Flathead after allegedly landing a helicopter there.
Federal law specifically prohibits motorized or mechanical use in the wilderness boundary with the notable exception of the airstrip at Schafer Meadows in the Great Bear Wilderness. Black Bear where the helicopter landed, however, is well over 20 miles from Schafer.
“Landing of aircraft, or dropping or picking up of any material, supplies, or person by means of aircraft, including a helicopter,” are prohibited in a National Forest Wilderness, federal law states.
One of the people part of the party that allegedly landed the helicopter in the Bob declined to comment, and Flathead National Forest officials say the matter is under investigation.
John, a man from Kalispell who asked that his last name not be used for fear of retribution, said he and another man were riding horses near Black Bear May 16. They had been seeing the helicopter buzzing over the South Fork of the Flathead earlier on that day, but about 3:30 p.m. they came upon the craft and a couple fishing. May 16 was the opening day of fishing season.
“We asked this guy if this was his helicopter, his reply was ‘ya nice way to go ha.’ My friend replies with ‘what makes you think that’s OK to park in the wilderness?’ His reply was, ‘we are below the high water line. It’s OK. Please move along. And if there’s any problems you have our tail numbers,’” John said.
At that point, John said, the conversation became heated and the man in the helicopter thought it best to leave.
According to photos provided by the horsemen and a search of public Federal Aviation Administration tail number records, the Bell Rotocraft helicopter is owned by WOS Holdings IV of Belgrade, whose principal owner is Sara Schwerin.
Schwerin is a pilot according to her social media posts and the photos of the couple standing next to the aircraft in the wilderness taken by the horsemen appear to match photos of Schwerin in other Internet posts, including a TV interview. It’s not clear if Schwerin was the pilot in this incident, as she was with another person, the male.
Schwerin is on the board of the Montana State University Advisory Board. She made her career in the banking industry, according to her Linkedin profile.
The horsemen said they turned over the information to Forest Service law enforcement.
The Forest Service said it is investigating the matter.
“We appreciate the reporting parties who came forward with the information and take it very seriously. It’s under investigation and we’ll let the public know as we have updates,” said Flathead National Forest spokeswoman Lauren Alley.
Contacted by phone, Schwerin said she had “no comment.”
The Forest Service also has airstrips at Meadow Creek, Spotted Bear, and Condon near, but not inside, the wilderness boundary.