A helicopter filming a driverless Audi on a test run crashed Friday about a mile below the summit of Pikes Peak, injuring the four people onboard, the sheriff’s office said.
The crash happened sometime before 7:30 a.m. near the winding roadway leading to the top of the mountain, which is about 14,110 feet above sea level. El Paso County Sheriff’s spokeswoman Teresa Murphy said the pilot suffered critical injuries and was taken to a hospital in a second helicopter. Murphy said the three other passengers suffered injuries that were not life-threatening. No names were released.
Murphy said the cause of the crash is unknown and that the Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board will lead the investigation.
Brad Stertz, a spokesman for German automaker Audi, said the helicopter was carrying a crew that was filming a driverless Audi on the road to the summit of the mountain. He said the test drive for the car Friday was part of a project with Stanford University, which helped create the technology for the driverless vehicle, named “Shelley.”
Dan Stober, a Stanford spokesman, said the automaker hired the film crew and that no one from the university was among those injured. The car was not involved in the crash.
Stober said the aim of the project is to develop autonomous cars that can sense what’s around them and avoid accidents.
“The ultimate goal is to make technology like this be available in ordinary cars,” he said.
A February news release from the university describing the project said that the car’s trunk would be packed with computers and GPS receivers so it could drive itself. The news release said the car would be driving at racing speeds up Pikes Peak, but Stober said that the car was being operated under “moderate speeds” Friday.
Pikes Peak, about 60 miles south of Denver, is Colorado’s 31st-highest mountain. Its majestic views from the summit inspired Katherine Lee Bates in 1893 to write the lyrics to “America the Beautiful.”
The helicopter crash will prevent a cog rail from taking riders to the summit of the mountain Friday, according to a telephone recording for the Pikes Peak Cog Railway, which it’s the world’s highest cog train.
“Our trains are not able of to go to the top today, due to an aircraft accident near the top of the mountain today,” the recording says, adding that the cogs are only cleared to reach 13,000 feet.