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Helicopter coming to pick up Gibbs crashes; 2 die

Compiled from Times wires
© St. Petersburg Times
published February 17, 2002

NEW SMYRNA BEACH -- Two people died in a helicopter crash Saturday while on the way to pick up NASCAR team owner Joe Gibbs.

Officials were waiting on autopsy results and dental records checks to confirm the identity of the victims. Volusia County authorities were first notified the Bell 206 Long Ranger helicopter had not reached its destination around 8 a.m., sheriff's spokesman Gary Davidson said.

A sheriff's helicopter spotted the wreckage in a remote, swampy area about 15 miles south of Daytona Beach, Davidson said. The helicopter was found in about 2 feet of water, leaving a debris trail about 150 yards long.

"The helicopter was coming over from Orlando to take me to Tarpon Springs for a breakfast meeting and then bring me back," Gibbs said after arriving at Daytona International Speedway. "I got up real early and we were supposed to leave at 6 o'clock. It never showed up and a local person bailed me out and took me over on another plane.

"It's a tragic experience."

Gibbs, who gave a motivational speech at the meeting, was at the speedway for the Busch Grand National series opener, the EAS/GNC Live Well 300.

The helicopter was owned by Orlando-based Universal Air Service of Florida. A man who answered the telephone there declined comment.

CREW PENALTIES: NASCAR issued two penalties for violations found this week in the Winston Cup and Busch Grand National series.

Tony Furr, Winston Cup crew chief for the No. 25 Chevrolet of driver Jerry Nadeau, was fined $25,000 after the car was found to be an eighth of an inch short of the minimum height after Thursday's 125-mile qualifying race.

In BGN, Fred Bickford, crew chief for the No. 94 Chevrolet driven by Jeff Spraker, was fined $5,000. NASCAR confiscated the car's engine because it did not meet the minimum weight.

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