Subscribe for 17¢ / day

The Associated Press

WINNETT (AP) — The Army National Guard is lending two of its powerful Blackhawk helicopters to help paleontologists remove a giant dinosaur skull discovered here.

The two skull pieces, estimated to weigh 3,500 pounds combined, will be airlifted Friday from their remote site to trucks about a mile away, said Pat Leiggi, administrative director of paleontology at the Museum of the Rockies in Bozeman.

“We use helicopters quite often because a lot of the (dinosaur) sites we’re working on are in remote areas that we can’t reach” by truck Leiggi said Monday.

However, he said researchers approached the National Guard because of the sheer size of the skull fragments.

“They’re very heavy. We wanted to make sure we had a helicopter that could handle them,” he said.

The Winnett skull is that of a torosaurus, a horned dinosaur that scientists believe lived 65 million to 67 million years ago. The two large skull pieces were uncovered last summer and currently are protected in plaster casts awaiting their brief flight, then trip via truck to the museum for additional study.

Lt. Col. Joe Foster, a spokesman for the Montana Army National Guard, said the Guard was happy to help remove the fossil pieces.

“It should be quite interesting to see,” he said Monday. “But I imagine a number of the paleontologists will be sweating bullets for a little while.”

Leiggi said the museum has called on the Guard two or three times in the past 20 years to remove heavy fossils. While airlifting any fossil is a nerve-racking event, Leiggi is confident in the Guard’s abilities.

“You’re always a bit nervous,” he said. “But we’ve used them before and they’re so well-prepared it’s beyond belief.”

One of the UH60 helicopters will do the transporting, Foster said. The other will serve as a backup and for observing the operation. Both are based in Helena.

Copyright 2001 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.