Air resources assisting crews working San Diego-area Gate Fire

Air resources continued to play a major role in containing the Gate Fire burning in San Diego County since Saturday.

The fire grew to 1,500 acres by Sunday morning, though crews made progress overnight, aided by cooler temperatures and higher humidity levels, Cal Fire reported. No structures have been damaged, and no injuries were reported.

Five airtankers and three helicopters were making drops on fire at one point Saturday, said Cal Fire Capt. Isaac Sanchez, according to the San Diego Union Tribune newspaper. Fire crews from several agencies were helping on the ground.

Evacuation orders lasted into Sunday.

Nevada Forestry and National Guard helicopter bucket training

Personnel from Nevada this week conducted aerial fire suppression and water bucket training on the heels of a wet winter and ahead of what could quickly turn into a very active summer for area firefighters.

Training throughout the week included several scenarios that mirrored real situations.

“In advance of what promises to be a challenging fire suppression season, this training aims to improve interagency crew cooperation and interaction, especially communication between ground and air crews,” National Guard spokesman Sgt. 1st Class Erick Studenicka said, according to the Record-Courier newspaper. 

A bucket drop test during training with the Nevada Division of Forestry and Nevada National Guard. Courtesy photo.
A bucket drop test during training with the Nevada Division of Forestry and Nevada National Guard. Courtesy photo.

Empty water bucket contributed to New Zealand helicopter crash

New Zealand’s Transport Accident Investigation Commission (TAIC) has determined that an empty water bucket contributed to the cause of a fatal helicopter crash on February 14, 2017.

David Steven Askin was piloting a helicopter for Way To go Heliservices working on a wildfire near Christchurch when it went down in the Port Hills.

Steve Askin
Steve Askin. Way To Go Heliservices photo.

The TAIC determined that a cable from the water bucket struck the tail of the Eurocopter AS350-BA.

The TAIC explained:

In the early afternoon, one of the helicopters, a Eurocopter AS350 ‘Squirrel’, registered ZK-HKW, crashed while the pilot was returning to the dipping pond to refill the firefighting ‘monsoon’ bucket. The helicopter was destroyed and the pilot was killed. Evidence shows that the likely cause of the crash was the empty monsoon bucket swung back into the tail rotor, damaging the tail rotor and causing the loss of the vertical stabiliser from the tail boom. After the loss of the vertical stabiliser, the helicopter gradually rolled to the right and descended until it struck the ground.

The TAIC’s investigation was aided by video from a camera mounted on the aircraft which showed the bucket swinging up toward the tail as the helicopter was enroute to a dip site.

Below is an excerpt from the Stuff website:

An abbreviated mayday call was heard by several pilots about 2.05pm, but it was not clear which radio frequency the call was made on.

The air attack supervisor asked for a role call of all aircraft involved. Askin did not respond.

After a brief search, another pilot found the wreckage of Askin’s helicopter on a steep slope near the head of a gully east of Sugarloaf.

According to TAIC’s report, the helicopter had struck a steep, tussock-covered slope. Main rotor strikes on the slope indicated the helicopter had tumbled further down the slope.

TAIC recommended several solutions, including using heavy ballast slings, and having someone monitor the operation from the ground.

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Chad.
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One dead after helicopter makes emergency landing in South Korea

A firefighting helicopter crew member died Monday during operations in the Gangwon Province of South Korea.

According to The Korean Times, the man “passed out as the aircraft made an emergency landing in Samcheok.” He was pronounced deceased after he was transferred to an area hospital, and early indications suggest the helicopter was forced to land after striking a high-tension power line.

At least 60 helicopters and 10,000 people have been mobilized for firefighting efforts in three areas, and residents across the region were urged to evacuate, the Korea JoonGang Daily reported. 

Massive helicopter used in wildfire on Russia/China border

Click on the photos to see larger versions.

The automatic translation from Bing:

Cross-border forest fires occurred in Russia, driven by China in Mongolia Autonomous daeheung an Ridge North. Join the Wu troops in Mongolia and Heilongjiang total fire fighting!

And Google’s auto-translation:

Forest fires occurred in Russia crossed the border and spread to the northern part of Daixing Anrill in China ‘s Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region. Forest Takeshi Kaiuchi Mongolia · Heilongji Squadron participate in firefighting activities.

Sheriff and Fire Departments in Orange County feud over helicopter responses

Above: file photo of firefighter with Orange County Fire Authority helicopter. OCFA photo.

In an air battle over the responsibility for helicopter rescues in Orange County, California the losers are the taxpayers and accident victims.

Historically the County Sheriff’s Department air fleet has taken the lead for searches, while the Orange County Fire Authority has handled rescues. Recently, however, the Sheriff has been poaching responses to rescues resulting in multiple helicopters appearing over the same incident potentially causing airspace conflicts and confusion.

According to the Orange County Register it happened twice on April 29, with the Sheriff’s helicopter being told repeatedly by the Incident Commander they were not requested and then ignoring orders to “stand down”.

Below is an excerpt from their article:

…Recordings from radio chatter on Saturday show sheriff pilots ignoring direct orders from local commanders.

In Orange, the commander on the ground told the sheriff pilot, “You will abide by what the ground (Incident Commander) is asking you to do.”

The sheriff helicopter completed the medical assistance call anyway.

“My concern is if you have four aircraft in the air, and the sheriff refuses to communicate, who will get hurt if there is an air accident?” said Orange City Fire Dept. Deputy Chief Robert Stefano.

In Laguna Beach, where an intoxicated 17-year-old was pulled from a beach cove, the commander told the Sheriff’s pilot, “You are not requested.” The Laguna official also declared that the Sheriff’s pilot was creating “an unsafe air operation” by not answering direct orders.

In another recording of the same incident, a Laguna Beach dispatcher told a fire official “It sounds like the sheriffs have gone rogue. They’re not listening to the (Incident Commander).”

It is absurd that emergency management professionals operating very expensive aircraft cannot act like adults and do what is best for the taxpayers, citizens, and accident victims who need the best medical care available administered in a safe environment.

The Orange County Register has a recording of the radio conversations that is astounding.

Fire monitoring helicopter crashes in Russia, reportedly killing three

A helicopter used for monitoring wildfires crashed May 4 in the Russian republic of Bashkortostan, according to TASS which received information from regional emergency services. Three people were on board when it went down 30 kilometers south of the community of Inzer in the Beloretsk district. The reports are that there were no survivors.

Below is an excerpt from TASS:

The helicopter belonged to the Lightair company. The news it went missing came at 14:20 Moscow time. The helicopter had left Bashkortostan’s capital Ufa for Beloretsk. The distress signal from its emergency beacon was picked up by a satellite rescue system. The local office of the Investigative Committee has launched a probe.

Our sincere condolences go out to the family, friends, and coworkers.

Firefighting helicopter goes down in Florida lake

Above: photo by Marion County Sheriff’s Office.

A Marion County Sheriff’s Office helicopter went down in a lake during water bucket operations on a wildfire in Florida Tuesday at about 6:30 p.m. In his last radio transmission pilot Sgt. John Rawls said he was going down, then after the helicopter rolled over at least once he exited the ship and swam about 50 yards to shore.

Only the tip of one rotor blade sticking out of the water is visible at the lake now, according to officials. The Sheriff’s Office said the helicopter experienced a malfunction as it was refilling the water bucket.

The Florida Forest Service and Marion County Fire Rescue assisted Sheriff deputies in making a path to the lake with heavy equipment in order to reach the pilot. Sgt. Rawls was transported to the hospital and is currently in stable condition.

The NE 212th Street Road fire is in Marion County, Florida about 20 miles northeast of Ocala. It has been burning for about a month.

map fire helicopter crash florida
Map showing the approximate location of the fire that the helicopter was working on when it crashed.

Sgt. Rawls has been with the Marion County Sheriff’s Office since 1998. He is also an Army helicopter pilot veteran who served during Operation Iraqi Freedom.

“Our pilot is OK and, though he does have some injuries, he should be fine,” said Sheriff Billy Woods. “The Marion County Fire Rescue and the Florida Forest Service did an outstanding job in helping us get to our pilot out there in order to get him to the hospital, and I want to thank each of them for the services that they provided to us. We are extremely grateful to everyone who worked tirelessly to make sure Sgt. Rawls got the emergency care he needed.”