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FBI probing shots fired at helicopter in Idaho

LEWISTON — The FBI is investigating a report that a hunter fired gunshots at a helicopter in north-central Idaho last week, hitting it twice.

The helicopter was flying over a controlled burn on Potlatch Corp. land north of Clarkia on Oct. 14 when it was fired on four times, Shoshone County officials said. They said a suspect has been identified, but no one has been arrested and officials were deciding whether he will face state or federal charges.

Vietnam veteran Earl Palmer was flying the Bell Jet Ranger helicopter, owned by Hillcrest Aircraft Co. in Lewiston.

“The first one I didn’t recognize as a bullet,” said Palmer, who heard a second similar snapping sound on another pass over the area. “I still didn’t identify it as somebody shooting at me. But almost immediately after that, I heard a loud one. And that one, the way it passed through the helicopter, went right over my head.”

Palmer, 69, said a fourth shot was fired and he got out of the area.

Hillcrest Aircraft owner Gail Wilson told the Lewiston Tribune one of the bullets cracked a control tube.

“It was within minutes of coming apart,” Wilson said, “at which point the helicopter would have wrecked.”

Palmer flew helicopters, including gunships, in Vietnam.

“I got shot down once,” he said. “I took one bullet through the engine, so we ended up in a rice paddy.”

Spokane-based Potlatch Corp. is a forest products company and is Idaho’s largest private landowner.

Mark Benson, a spokesman for Potlatch, acknowledged that the incident occurred during an operation on land owned by the company. Benson declined to comment in the shooting, preferring instead to let the investigation run its course.