Three men were killed when their helicopter crashed into the ground not long after taking off from the Carbon County Airport Saturday afternoon.

Only remnants of the privately owned Hughes 500-series aircraft remained as the pilot had refueled just before taking off around 3:40 p.m., carrying nearly 20 gallons of gasoline that caused a large explosion upon impact.

The helicopter went down about a mile west of the airport, in a remote area away from the road and other development, said Carbon County Sheriff James Cordova.

Dispatchers had said the crash was "in the middle of nowhere."

Officials from the National Transportation Safety Board and the Federal Aviation Administration were en route to the crash site in Price late Saturday for further investigation.

"We can't even begin to speculate what happened to them up there," Cordova said. "The wind conditions weren't that great, and it was a pretty hot day."

Temperatures reached 96 degrees near Price on Saturday.

"I'm no expert on airplanes, but I don't believe that helped their situation," Cordova said.

Witnesses believe that wind gusts, directed at the tail of the helicopter, may have forced the aircraft to the ground.

"It was just more than what the helicopter could handle," Jeremy Johnson told Fox 13 News.

Johnson, a helicopter pilot familiar with the area and the passengers aboard the aircraft that crashed, said its pilot was "very experienced" and had more than 10,000 hours of flight time.

It is unknown where the men were traveling; however, witnesses believed the three were returning to the Salt Lake area following a fishing and camping trip near Green River.


E-mail: wleonard@desnews.com