70 million-year-old dinosaur fossils helicoptered out of New Mexico wilderness

BISTI WILDERNESS AREA, New Mexico (KRQE) – It was a major, but unique, mission Thursday morning as two dinosaurs were pulled out of New Mexico’s northwestern badlands with the help of helicopters.

“We do find dinosaurs here, this is really a world-famous spot for finding dinosaurs,” Phil Gensler, regional paleontologist for The Bureau of Land Management, said.

The mission was the culmination of four years of work to excavate two ancient creatures known as Pentaceratops.

The skeletal fossils, of a baby and an adult, were tucked away in the Bisti Wilderness. They were found by staff with the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science during a land survey years ago.

The baby fossil is nearly complete, but the adult Pentaceratops fossil is only the skull.

This baby Pentaceratops is the only one found in the world, so scientists hope it opens the doors to learning more about these creatures.

“There’s been a lot of planning, there’s been a lot of logistical arrangement,” Spencer Lucas, chief curator at the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science, said about the recovery.

The Bisti is federally protected land, meaning no vehicles are allowed in order to keep it natural and beautiful.

“All the excavation we had to do by hand,” Lucas said. “We had to haul the plaster, the water, the tools, in by hand.”

But on Thursday morning, a small exception was made to airlift out the dinos, encased in plaster, so they could begin their journey to the museum in Albuquerque.

The massive effort was a collaboration between museum staff, the BLM and the NM National Guard with the use of their Blackhawk helicopters.

The Blackhawks picked up the plaster-encased bones, which weighed thousands of pounds, and dropped them at a nearby site accessible by car. Then they were loaded onto a flatbed truck and transported to the museum in Albuquerque.

A total of three loads of bones, the baby’s skull, body and the adult’s skull, were supposed to be airlifted. The baby’s body, however, was stuck in mud and will be lifted at a later date.

“It’s awesome to see these things coming out of the ground,” Gensler said.

“For me the most magical moment was to see a dinosaur that lived here 70 million years ago, in a jungle, actually fly 70 million years later, that’s amazing,” Lucas said.

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