Helicopter crew looking for pot gardens crashes in Oregon

Photo courtesy Harney County Sheriff/KPTV

BURNS, Ore. (KPTV) -- A helicopter crew looking for illegal marijuana gardens crashed on a Forest Service road in eastern Oregon on Monday afternoon.

The U.S. Department of Justice leased the helicopter for marijuana eradication efforts in northern Harney County. Large outdoor marijuana growing operations are often found in rural Oregon; in fact, a smoke jumper fighting a wildfire found a pot garden belonging to Mexican drug traffickers earlier this year.

On Monday around 1:30 p.m., the helicopter was 400 feet off the ground when the engine failed, causing the pilot to auto rotate down to a narrow road near Calamity Butte.

The pilot, 29-year-old Thomas Levanger, of Redding, CA, and passenger, Harney County Deputy Sheriff Chris Nisbet, both survived the crash and did not suffer any significant injuries.

The helicopter's rear rotor, landing gear and main rotors damaged in the wreck.

The National Transportation and Safety Board is now investigating, and the company that owns the helicopter plans to remove it Tuesday.