Wednesday, August 06, 2008

U.S. Forest Service fire fighters feared killed in California helicopter crash

U.S. Forest ServiceA Sikorsky S-61N helicopter carrying U.S. Forest Service fire fighters has crashed in northern California. The accident occurred at about 7:30 p.m. PDT last night, August 5, 2008. According to an FAA preliminary report about the accident, the helo had two crew members and 11 passengers on board. A media advisory about the crash issued today by the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) says that of the 13 people believed to be on board, four suffered serious injuries, while nine are unaccounted for and are presumed to be fatally injured.

The NTSB says that the rotorcraft crashed during takeoff in a remote wooded area about 35 miles northwest of Redding, CA, and that a fire ensued. A U.S. Forest Service statement about the crash, issued last evening, noted that the helicopter was assigned to the Iron Complex on the Shasta-Trinity National Forest. It crashed on the north end of the Buckhorn Fire, approximately 15 miles northwest of Junction City, Calif.

A follow-up statement issued by the U.S. Forest Service a short time ago confirmed that the helo was shuttling fire crews, and said:
Four fire personnel were airlifted to Mercy Medical Center and arrived at approximately 9:30 p.m. Two fire personnel, one of which is the pilot of the helicopter, were air lifted to UC Davis Medical Center in Sacramento. This morning at about 8 a.m. a third individual was air lifted to UC Davis Medical Center.
The Forest Service stated that the person identified as a pilot is in "serious condition."

The FAA and the NTSB reported the registration number of the rotorcraft as N612AZ. FAA records list the craft's registered owner as Carson Helicopters, Inc. of Grants Pass, OR. The U.S. Forest Service confirmed today that the helicopter was operating under contract, and was owned by Carson Helicopters.

The NTSB has dispatched a "Go Team" to investigate the accident.

UPDATE Aug. 15, 2008: The NTSB has issued an update on the progress of the investigation of this crash, saying the on-site phase of the investigation has ended, but the investigation is ongoing.

Excerpt from today's NTSB press advisory:
The helicopter had taken on fuel immediately before the sortie that included the accident flight. Fuel samples from the truck that serviced the aircraft have been obtained and will be tested.

Interviews with firefighters who witnessed the accident have concluded. They consistently reported that the helicopter lifted off slower than they would have expected before striking trees and crashing more than 100 yards from the lift off point.
The helo's cockpit voice recorder (CVR) was recovered but had sustained heat damage that prevented data extraction by the usual methods. It is being sent to the manufacturer in England for further analysis.

Nine of the 13 individuals who were aboard the accident aircraft were killed.