Two killed when helicopter crashes while working on a prescribed fire in Mississippi

(UPDATED at 9:55 a.m. CDT, March 31, 2015)

A helicopter crashed in southern Mississippi on Monday, killing two people who were working on a prescribed fire. Mario Rossilli, spokesperson for the U.S. Forest Service, said one of the deceased worked for the USFS and the other was the pilot of the helicopter under contract with the USFS. The person that was injured was also a USFS employee. Their names have not been released.

This video has a little more information than the one we posted on Monday.

WLOX.com – The News for South Mississippi

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Originally published at 9:03 p.m. CDT, March 30, 2015 Two people were killed and one was injured March 30 when a helicopter crashed while working on a prescribed fire on the Desoto National Forest in southern Mississippi. Below is an excerpt from NBC news: 

The helicopter, a Bell 206L-1, went down about 3 p.m. (4 p.m. ET) near Saucier, about 25 miles northwest of Biloxi, the National Transportation Safety Board confirmed. The NTSB said it would lead the investigation. “We do have two confirmed fatalities,” Harrison County Fire Chief Pat Sullivan told reporters. The third crew member was airlifted to the University of South Alabama Medical Center in Mobile, he said. The men were contract workers who were monitoring a controlled burn of about 800 acres in De Soto National Forest, authorities said.

  From WLOX:

An eyewitness told WLOX News he saw the chopper working the fire, and could tell something didn’t seem right. “The helicopter was circling around the fire and within the next couple of minutes I saw it. It was landing on purpose, but it sounded like a little maybe in distress. But then shortly there after a rescue came in and was wanting to know how to get back there,” said Earnest Richardson Junior. “You could tell something was wrong at the end of it, but I didn’t know it was that bad. It kinda looked like he was almost landing for a minute. But like I said, I’m not sure because it circled around the fire. I thought maybe he was trying to land.”

Our sincere condolences go out to their families and co-workers.

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Kevin.

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Tanker 873 makes the news in Pennsylvania

In this video WTAJ introduces a Single Engine Air Tanker, T-873, to the public. The aircraft is based near Black Moshannon State Park in Pennsylvania but will migrate west this summer.

Last year I photographed that ship at Chester, California and talked to the pilot who was flying it that day, Fred Celest.

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Fred.

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Helicopter bucket that creates foam

An organization in Russia has created a helicopter bucket apparatus that creates foam. The terminology translated from Russian is difficult to follow, for example, they call it a Helicopter Water Spillway Device.

Apparently the apparatus has water and foam concentrate tanks, and a motor, presumably for pumping water and/or powering fans. Fans may blow air into the water/foam stream to create the foam, which I believe was described as low and medium expansion foam.

The foam from one load can cover 1,000 to 1,500 square meters, or 0.25 to 0.37 acres.

It looks very complex and expensive, but it may have a use on wildland fires. A foam fireline should be effective for a longer period of time than plain water dropped from a helicopter. Firefighters on the ground conducting burnouts and backfires could use it as a fireline.

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Cameron.

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Neptune expects to have seven BAe-146s available by end of the year

Neptune's air Tanker 41

Neptune’s Tanker 41, a BAe-146, at Boise, July 19, 2014. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

Neptune Aviation, in addition to the six P2Vs and one BAe-146 they have under exclusive use contracts, expects to have a total of seven converted BAe-146 air tankers available by the end of this year. Perhaps some of those additional six will be put to work when the U.S. Forest Service announces the second round of “next-generation” air tanker contracts later this year, or perhaps in 2016. Proposals from vendors were due March 24, 2015.

The American Helicopter Services And Aerial Firefighting Association issued a press release about preparations their clients are undertaking to get ready for this fire season.

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While the fire season throughout much of the US does not begin until early spring, the private aerial firefighting industry is—even now–battle-ready for what could be another tough year, thanks to ongoing dry conditions in the Western states.

“I think there is going to be far more fire activity in 2015, particularly in the Pacific Northwest, which is a lot drier than it was last year at this time,” said Drew Njirich, President of Intermountain Helicopter in Sonora, California. “Although California will also be an area of focus, every part of the west, including Idaho and Montana, could be severely impacted by this year’s fire season.”

Intermountain Helicopter’s single Bell 212 medium helicopter, which is under an Exclusive Use (EU) contract with the US Forest Service (USFS) for the next three years, underwent maintenance and modification work during the winter months to assure its availability for its multi-mission work in support of ground-based fire firefighters, such as ferrying of personnel and supplies to the fire lines. As an additional safety measure for the upcoming fire season, the company installed a Garmin GDL-69 satellite link weather system in order to monitor weather conditions in areas where there is no cellphone coverage.   “Being linked to a satellite system means that we can monitor the weather wherever we are, in real time,” Njirich explained. “When it comes to safety, we try to stay ahead of the game.”

At Rogers Helicopters, winter maintenance is nearing completion. “We always prepare for a high level of firefighting, even if it turns out that the fire season is not as severe as those in the past,” said Robin Rogers, Vice-President of the Fresno, California-based company.

Two of the company’s Bell 212s are being readied for operation under USFS EU contracts, with an additional three Bell 212s committed to EU contracts with the State Of Alaska Department Of Forestry.

“Another Bell 212, and a Eurocopter AS 350B2 A-Star will be under USFS Call When Needed (CWN) contracts,” Rogers noted. “In addition, we have two fixed wing Rockwell 690A twin turboprop Commanders that will be operated in air traffic management roles during aerial firefighting for the USFS.”

Those aircraft will be manned by a cadre of 14 pilots, four of whom will be assigned to the Commanders. All of the pilots are currently undergoing recurrent training, said Rogers, who explained that all of the company’s fixed wing and helicopter training is carried out in house.

Keith Saylor, Director Of Commercial Operations for Columbia Helicopters in Portland, Oregon, reported that the operator has just submitted a proposal to make 19 helicopters available under state and federal CWN contracts. Those aircraft will include former US Army CH47D helicopters, acquired by Columbia last year, as well as Columbia Model 107s and Model 234s. At the same time, three of the company’s Model 107s and one Model 234 will be commencing the final year of a four year USFS EU contract beginning in May.

“We put our aircraft through some contractually mandated avionics changes, along with our routine winter fleet maintenance,” Saylor pointed out. “We also carried out initial training of the pilots we newly hired, along with recurrent training for those already on staff.” Columbia Helicopters, he added, is anticipating a “moderate to severe” fire season for the Pacific Northwest.

Neptune Aviation Services, the largest operator of fixed wing aerial tankers, expects to wrap up all heavy maintenance in May, according to Dan Snyder, Chief Operating Officer of the Missoula, Montana-headquartered company. “Since last fall, we will have invested nearly 18,000 man-hours to prepare our aircraft for the 2015 fire season, which is about average for each year,” he said.

Currently, Neptune Aviation Services has seven aircraft under EU contracts with the USFS for 2015, which includes six P2V Neptunes and one BAe146 jet. However, Snyder stressed that other aircraft are available as needed. In fact, by the end of this year, the operator expects to have a fleet of seven BAe146 jets reconfigured for aerial firefighting, in addition to its legacy fleet of P2Vs.

“We began flight crew training on both the Neptunes and BAe146s starting in January of this year,” Snyder reported. “That includes ground school, simulator, in-aircraft training; as well as mission specific training.” The BAe146 simulator training, he explained, is conducted in Australia and in the United Kingdom. “We use a generic simulator for the P2V instrument training,” said Snyder.

Although he did not want to speculate about the coming fire season, Snyder did point out that the company has received inquiries from the USFS about deploying some of the contracted aircraft early due to concerns about the fire potential in California. The first aircraft, in fact, has been mission ready since March 5, with deployment of the remaining five by May 30.

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New paint for Tanker 66

T-66 new paint

New paint for Tanker 66. Photo on March 19, 2015 at Medford, Oregon. Photo by Tim Crippin.

Tim Crippin sent us the photo above of Erickson’s Tanker 66, saying it just returned to Medford, Oregon after getting a new paint job at Phoenix Goodyear Airport.

The photo below is what it looked like a year ago. It is our understanding that Tanker 60 will get the same paint scheme very soon.

DC-7 air tankers at Paso Robles Air Tanker Base

Two DC-7 air tankers and an S-2T air tanker at Paso Robles Air Tanker Base, January 19, 2014. CAL FIRE photo.

The paint is similar to the three Erickson MD-87s:

Tanker 101, an MD-87

Tanker 101, an MD-87, during the grid retardant test, January 15, 2014. Photo by Jeff Zimmerman. (click to enlarge)

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Revisiting a 2003 congressional hearing about air tankers

One of our loyal readers pointed out to us that the same issue of Skies magazine that had an article about the two large air tankers spending the Australian summer down under, also had something written by Tony Kern, but he said that he was unable to view it. At first we were going to link to it and wanted to be sure we got Mr. Kern’s title right for when he worked for the U.S. Forest Service. It turned out that the piece he wrote was not terribly interesting, to me anyway — it is a short article about “selflessness”. But in the research for his title, we found the transcript of a March 26, 2003 hearing before the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources.

Mr. Kern was a Deputy Director of the Forest Service’s Fire and Aviation program, and was sometimes referred to as the USFS Aviation Director. His bio states that he was selected for the USFS job after retiring from the Air Force in June, 2000. There is no mention of him having any experience with air tankers or fire management before he took over the air tanker and helicopter program in the USFS. A piece he wrote in 2002 (along with a rebuttal by John Watt) leads one to think that at one time he believed that a lead plane preceding an air tanker on a drop was not absolutely necessary, or could be handled by helicopters, such as the AH-1 Cobra, which later came to be called Firewatch when the USFS got a couple of them up and running. Currently Mr. Kern is the CEO of Convergent Performance, a company based in Colorado Springs, Colorado that campaigned for the state’s Center of Excellence for Advanced Technology Aerial Firefighting to be located in Colorado Springs.

But, back to the Congressional hearing, in which Mr. Kern was one of six witnesses in the room testifying before the Senate Committee. The others were:

  • William R. Broadwell, Executive Director, Aerial Firefighters Industry Association.
  • Larry Hamilton, National Director, Department of the Interior Office of Fire and Aviation, NIFC, BLM.
  • Jim Hull, State Forester and Director, Texas State Forest Service.
  • Jim Hall, President, Hall and Associates, former chair of the National Transportation Safety Board
  • Duane A. Powers, Director of Operations, Hawkins & Powers Aviation, Inc., Greybull, WY

Mr. Hull and Mr. Hall were co-chairs of the Blue Ribbon Fact Finding Panel on Aviation that was formed after the wings fell off two air tankers in 2002, completely shutting down, temporarily, the large air tanker program in the United States, grounding the remaining 42 air tankers. The Blue Ribbon Panel completed their report three months before the hearing. When it convened, inspections, evaluations, and recommendations were being completed and written, to try to find ways to safely reconstitute a large air tanker program.

One thing that impressed me about the hearing was the quality of the questions by the Senators. Most of them were intelligent, insightful, and showed a surprising understanding of the fire aviation program. Of course it is possible, or probable, that the staff of the Senators and the Committee prepared the questions which were then simply read. But some of their comments seemed to be extemporaneous, and perhaps not composed in advance. And Chair of the Committee, Senator Larry Craig, in spite of his misadventure four years later in the restroom at the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport, led a productive hearing and also asked excellent questions.

Many of the topics discussed during the hearing are still contentious today, having not been acted upon or resolved. Some of the answers to the Senators’ questions could be heard now if a similar hearing was underway on Capitol Hill.

The transcript from the hearing is long, but if you’re a fire aviation geek you may find it fascinating — and infuriating.

Here are some excerpts and highlights:

Continue reading

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