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Man falls out of helicopter, dies in California pot grow cleanup

  • In this February 2013 photo provided by Susan Barnett, Shane Krogen plays with Susan's dog Weezee in Fresno. Authorities in central California say Krogen, a member of a volunteer environmental cleanup crew, fell out of a helicopter and died during a marijuana eradication effort in Tulare County on Thursday, Sept. 12, 2013. (AP Photo/Susan Barnett)

FRESNO — A California outdoorsman who led crews of volunteers through the Sierra Nevada mountains repairing trails and cleaning up marijuana grow sites has died after falling 50 feet from a helicopter, authorities said.

Shane Krogen was to be lowered in a harness to a remote cleanup site in Sequoia National Forest when he fell Thursday morning, said Lt. Patrick Foy of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.

"Everyone else had used it too," Foy said about the harness. Foy was at the scene but did not see the fall.

The helicopter was flown by the California National Guard 129th Air Rescue Wing.

Krogen, 57, of Fresno was the founder and executive director of the High Sierra Trail Crew, a group that has worked with the fish and wildlife agency since 2008 and U.S. Forest Service since 1995 to remove trash and contaminants from illegal and remote marijuana gardens.

Krogen and some of his crew were among a handful of volunteers trained to be airlifted and lowered into difficult terrain.

"They were trained by the Department of Fish and Wildlife and the military," Foy said. "We just don't know what happened yet."

Fair weather and remote terrain have lured scores of people to establish illegal marijuana grow sites across the Sierra Nevada wilderness in recent years. They dam streams and spray pesticides and rodenticides, many that are banned in the U.S. They also leave behind tons of trash from campsites that are occupied during the five-month growing season.

"Shane was passionate about the environment," said his friend and fellow trail crew volunteer Warren Sargent. "He had a vision. He knew we had to get the chemicals out of those sites before they got into the water and caused even bigger problems."

Foy and about 15 other law enforcement agents had hiked to the grow site early Thursday. At about 10 a.m., Krogen and four other cleanup volunteers were to be transported by helicopter to a spot about 100 feet away.

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