A 51-year-old Idaho man was fatally injured when he was struck by a falling tree during a logging operation in Southeast Alaska Friday, according to Alaska State Troopers.
AST spokesperson Beth Ipsen says troopers received notification of the accident, near Banana Point on Mitkof Island, just before 7 p.m. Friday. Mark Debates, a hook setter with Oregon-based heavy-lift chopper operator Columbia Helicopters, was working with his partner to move the tree.
"(The tree) was estimated to be approximately 20 feet long and 25 inches in diameter," Ipsen wrote in a Friday email.
Columbia Helicopters spokesperson Dan Sweet says initial reports that the tree fell from the helicopter before it struck Debates, rendering him unresponsive, were inaccurate.
"The tree did not fall from the helicopter, but was rather a tree in a residual stand within the harvest area that fell for reasons not yet known," Sweet wrote in an email Saturday. "The investigation continues and will examine this occurrence."
Debates was flown to a nearby hospital in Petersburg, where he underwent emergency treatment for his injuries. He was pronounced dead by hospital doctors despite their efforts to revive him.
The incident is currently being investigated by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
Sweet declined any comment on the investigation Saturday, but says Debates' colleagues are still struggling with his loss.
"It's such a tragedy when anything like this happens," Sweet said. "Our company is so small, especially on the logging side, that it really hits our family hard."
Channel 2's Chris Klint contributed information to this story.
Editor's note: An initial account of the accident, as well as Mark Debates' last name and state of residence, have been corrected from an inaccurate Alaska State Troopers dispatch Friday.