Kansas helicopter crash claims Sequim pilot's life

Roger Guy Hershner, a 66-year-old Sequim resident, died March 8 when his helicopter crashed in a field in central Kansas.

Hershner had worked five years for Hillcrest Aircraft Co. of Lewiston, Idaho, which provides contract helicopters for the U.S. Forest Service.

The Kansas Highway Patrol said Hershner was flying from Washington state to Virginia to work for the Forest Service.

A Kansas Highway Patrol trooper said the helicopter stopped overnight Saturday in Ogallala, Neb., and left Sunday for Wichita, Kan.

A Federal Aviation Administration spokeswoman said the crash occurred about 2:45 p.m. Sunday near Moundridge, about 40 miles north of Wichita.

The pilot was airborne for 21/2 hours before the crash, she said.

Officials from the Harvey County Coroner's Office pronounced Hershner dead at the crash site.

The cause of the crash was unknown at press time, but officials from the Federal Aviation Administration office in Witchita and National Transportation Safety Board office in Denver are investigating.

A witness who lives near the crash site in Moundridge said he heard Hershner's Bell 206 helicopter experiencing what he thought were engine problems.

Brian Flynn of Moundridge said he heard the helicopter's seem to speed up, slow down, stop, and speed up once more before everything went silent.

"We got out the binoculars and saw what it was," he said. "Smoke was the first thing I saw."

Flynn said he called 9-1-1 and then jumped onto his 4-wheeler to drive out into the field to see if there was anyone in need of help.

"I did not see a survivor," he said. "It was hard to tell even what it was."

Kansas Highway Patrol Trooper B.D. Gardner said there were no witnesses of the actual crash.

Gardner said the patrol is required by state law to help

begin investigations of all aircraft crashes.

The FAA and NTSB investigation will take a few days, Gardner said.

Hershner recalled as pilot, friend


Sequim Gazette

Sequim resident Roger Hershner was remembered by longtime friends as a great pilot and a good man with a wonderful sense humor.

He also was the helicopter pilot in a daring escape from Santa Marta Acatitla prison southeast of Mexico City on Aug. 18, 1971.

The feat was chronicled in the 1973 book "10 Second Jailbreak: The Helicopter Escape of Joel David Kaplan" by Eliot Asinof, Warren Hinckle and William Turner.

The book was made into the 1975 movie, "Breakout," starring Charles Bronson as the helicopter pilot who lifted Kaplan and his cell mate from the prison yard.

Hershner died Sunday when his Bell 206 helicopter crashed 40 miles north of Wichita, Kan., en route to Abingdon, Va., to meet a longtime friend to do contract helicopter work for the U.S. Forest Service.

A memorial service had not yet been arranged by press time Tuesday afternoon.

CalFire Capt. Arnold Ramirez said he and Hershner met about six years ago as firefighting pilots for San Joaquin Helicopters in California.

"We had some good times, flying around putting out fires in the western United States," he said.

"You could tell he just loved living, very charismatic."

After Hershner left the area, he would return annually for training in Anaheim and stay with him in Huntington Beach, which was "kind of neat," because they were able to stay in touch, Ramirez said.

Regarding the prisoner rescue in Mexico, Ramirez said Hershner never brought it up. But if you asked, he would tell the entire story once, from beginning to end with every detail.

"I can't begin to tell you what an epic story it is. You will have to read the book to really understand what it took to do what they did.

"The movie was loosely based on what really happened. The book is the way to go," he said.

"Roger was one of those people who was special. You knew it the minute you met him. He had an aura about him. People were drawn to him, kind of like kids go to Santa," Ramirez said.

Brian Kliesen said he flew with Hershner in New Mexico and he was "an exceptional pilot, an excellent firefighter and a good friend."

"His exploits in the helicopter industry will be long remembered," he said.

Ed Mauldin knew Hershner for 20 years, dating back to when they used to fly helicopters in California.

"Roger had a wonderful sense of humor. He was, by far, one of the best pilots in the helicopter industry. He taught me long-line and heavy lift, and power line construction," Mauldin said.

Reach Brian Gawley at

Todd Vogt, editor of the Moundridge Kansas Ledger newspaper, contributed to this report.

Reach Brian Gawley at

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