NPS helicopter rescues man and two dogs from icy lake

Park Police ice rescue training. NPS photo.
File photo of National Park Service’s Park Police Eagle One helicopter conducting ice rescue training, February 17, 2010. NPS photo.

One of the four helicopters in the National Park Service’s Park Police aviation unit rescued a man and two dogs from an icy lake Sunday near Gainesville, Virginia. Their previous training, documented in the photo above, paid off

Below is a summary of the incident, from the NPS Morning Report:

United States Park Police
Crew Of Eagle 2 Rescues Hypothermic Man From Lake

On the afternoon of Sunday, February 23rd, the United States Park Police Aviation Section received a mutual aid request from the Prince William County Fire and Rescue Department, which sought assistance from a Park Police helicopter with an ice rescue at Lake Manassas in Gainesville, Virginia.

US Park Police Eagle 2 responded with a crew of four – Sgt. Kevin Chittick, pilot; Officer Ryan Evasick, co-pilot; and Sgt. David Tolson and Officer Michael Abate, rescue technicians.

Eagle 2 arrived on the scene at about 3:45 pm and was asked to assist by hoisting an elderly man who had been stranded on Lake Manassas after his canoe became flooded with ice cold water. Prince William County Fire personnel had entered the water in ice rescue suits to attempt the rescue, but their efforts were hampered by unstable ice and dangerous conditions.

Chittick positioned Eagle 2 for the hoist and Tolson was lowered about 20 feet to the man, who was attached to a rescue strap and then hoisted aboard the helicopter. Chittick then flew it to the nearby shoreline, where the man was lowered to the ground. Paramedics transferred the man to a waiting ambulance and began basic and advanced life support treatment for severe hypothermia.

Eagle 2 then returned to the scene. Evasick was lowered to the canoe, where he located two dogs. He was able to rescue both animals and subsequently bring them to shore.

In 2012 we wrote about the Park Police aviation unit.

Firefighting helicopters in central Texas

The three EC-145 STARFlight helicopters in Travis County in central Texas are used for medical transport, swift-water rescue, search and rescue, high-angle rescue, fire suppression, aerial reconnaissance, and law enforcement. A fourth helicopter recently acquired, a UH-1H Huey, will only be used for fires. It can carry up to 325 gallons of water in a belly tank, much more than the EC-145’s 130-gallon attached Bambi bucket.

The Huey was originally manufactured by Bell Helicopter, served in Vietnam and was later retrofitted for STARFlight by Northwest Helicopters in Olympia, Wash. Travis County purchased the aircraft with spare parts, tools, and training for $2.2 million.

Thanks and a hat tip go out to Jansen.

Montana company purchases first civilian-owned CH-47D Chinooks

Billings Flying Service Chinook
Billings Flying Service Chinook, February 18 near Huntsville, Alabama before departing for Montana. Photo by Billings Flying Service.

Billings Flying Service just became the first non-military owner of CH-47D Chinook helicopters. Gary Blain, a co-owner of the company, told Fire Aviation that the process was much like purchasing a used government-owned vehicle. He submitted a $6.5 million bid for two of them and it was accepted.

Columbia Helicopters has BV-234 Chinooks, but this is the first time the higher performance CH-47D models have migrated into the civilian world.

On Wednesday and Thursday Mr. Blain and another pilot flew the two Chinooks from the Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville, Alabama to the company’s facilities south of Billings, Montana near the Yellowstone River.

Anything you do with aircraft is expensive. Mr. Blain said they spent $32,000 for fuel during their two-day trip, with an overnight stopover in Norfolk, Nebraska.

In about four months they expect to have one of them outfitted for wildland firefighting, with the other coming on line next year. He said with an external bucket the ships could deliver 2,500 gallons of water. They have been consulting with the manufacturer, Boeing, and are considering installing an internal water tank with a snorkel and water pump for refilling the tank. The Chinook has an unusually high capacity for electrical accessories, so they are looking at either an electrical or a hydraulic pump. The water would exit the tank either from the rear ramp or through a hole cut in the belly. We asked if the tank would be similar to the RADS tank pioneered by Aero Union, and Mr. Blain said that if they choose the internal tank option they would probably work with Boeing to engineer something new.

Billings Flying Service Chinook
Billings Flying Service Chinook, February 18 near Huntsville, Alabama before departing for Montana. Photo by Billings Flying Service.

When operated by the military the Chinooks have a three-person crew, two pilots and an engineer-type who monitors gauges and interfaces with passengers. Billings Flying Service will not haul passengers, so they will reconfigure the cockpit making it possible for two pilots to handle everything. They will also install a bubble window to improve the visibility when flying external loads.

The company expects to hire at least 15 new employees to complete the work on the two helicopters. They will also construct a hanger for the ships, either at their headquarters or at the Billings airport.

Billings Flying Service is a second generation helicopter company and currently has one Bell 212 on an exclusive use firefighting contract and three Sikorsky S-61s and two Bell UH-1Hs on call when needed contracts. In addition to aerial firefighting, they are experienced in aerial construction, power transmission line construction, equipment transportation, geo-seismic exploration and passenger air charter.


Thanks and a hat tip go out to Dick and Steve.

Redesigned helitank for Bell 212

Ascent helitank

Ascent Aerospace sent us these photos of their redesigned helitank for a Bell 212, called the Ascent 50001C. The 360-gallon tank is made from carbon fiber and has a retractable snorkle and a system that maps the coordinates of all water drops. The system is certified to allow the transportation of passengers when the helitank is installed.

The company told us the tank is certified to the latest FAA FAR 27/29 STC requirements for helicopter safety and crash worthiness. It received Supplementary Type Certification (STC) from the Australian Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) on June 19, 2013 and from Transport Canada on November 1, 2013. FAA STC certification will be underway in the near future.

Ascent helitank

CAL FIRE and DynCorp receive award from FAA

For a third year in a row the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) presented CAL FIRE and DynCorp International with the FAA’s Diamond Award of Excellence for Aviation Maintenance. The award recognizes CAL FIRE’s aviation maintenance unit after all maintenance technicians pass a rigorous and specialized aircraft safety training program.

CAL FIRE’s current support contractors are DynCorp and Logistics Specialties Incorporated (LSI). DynCorp provides airtanker and airtactical plane pilot services, and all aircraft maintenance services. All CAL FIRE helicopters are flown by CAL FIRE pilots. LSI provides procurement and parts management services.

CAL FIRE helicopter pilot featured on Los Angeles news

Los Angeles Local News | FOX 11 LA KTTV

CAL Fire helicopter pilot Desiree Horton is featured in a news report on MyFoxLA (above). Desiree has been flying helicopters for at least 14 years, including piloting and reporting from news helicopters for several TV stations in Los Angeles, flying on U.S. Forest Service contracts for a firefighting helicopters on the San Bernardino National Forest and in Oregon, doing heavy lifts in a Sikorsky S-58, and then in 2013 flying a fire helicopter for CAL FIRE. She even has her own Wikipedia page, and has been nicknamed “Chopper Chick”: She is currently working on a limited term appointment, but hopes to get a permanent job with CAL FIRE.

Back in the days before was born, we wrote several articles about Desiree on

Desiree is on the right (Duh!), as seen in a 2009 video about how to test a microphone with a Sikorsky S-58.

Desiree is the first female firefighting helicopter pilot in California working directly for a public agency. However there has been at least one other woman who worked for a private company on a firefighting contract — Bonnie Wilkens, who flew out of Ramona.


Thanks and a hat tip go out to Joseph.

Cause of helicopter hoist fatality similar to earlier rappel death

Harness connection
A demonstration of the improper harness connection. Air Force photo.

An investigative report determined that the cause of a fatality that occurred to a volunteer while he was being lowered by a helicopter’s hoist over the Sequoia National Forest was similar to a previous rappelling accident that killed a U.S. Forest Service employee in 2009.

Use of hoist
File photo. Pararescuemen from the 304th Rescue Squadron Portland Air National Guard Base, Ore., practice their rescue skills with an HH-60 Pave Hawk and crew from the 305th RQS at nearby Davis-Monthan Air Force Base. U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Ruby Zarzyczny

The Air Force report released last week by the Virginia-based Air Combat Command said improper rigging and inadequate oversight caused the death of Shane Krogen, executive director of the High Sierra Volunteer Trail Crew, 30 miles east of Visalia, California, on September 12, 2013.

Mr. Krogen was participating in an environmental clean-up and restoration of a contaminated marijuana grow site in the Sequoia National Forest that was carried out by California Air National Guard’s 129th Rescue Wing. While preparing to be lowered by the hoist on an HH-60G Pavehawk helicopter, a variant of a Blackhawk, Mr. Krogen mistakenly attached the aircraft’s hoist to a non-load-bearing plastic D-ring of a tactical vest instead of to the load-bearing metal D-ring of his harness. When the plastic D-ring broke, Mr. Krogen fell from the aircraft to the ground from an approximate 45-foot hover and sustained fatal injuries.

The report concluded that the helicopter crew’s safety man did not maintain adequate oversight during flight and hoist operations and that Mr. Krogen’s use of his personal equipment “excessively cluttered the area around the load-bearing metal D-ring”, interfering with a safe connection and visual inspection. And, “due to the extremely close proximity of the Yates harness load bearing D-ring in relation to the Condor tactical vest’s non-load bearing D-ring, and the concealment of both D-rings by the cluttered pouches on the Condor tactical vest, which included a handgun, the [safety man] incorrectly concluded the Civilian Fatality was properly secured”.

The report also said that according to the Pentagon only law enforcement personnel should be allowed on counterdrug flights and that Mr. Krogen, as a civilian, was not authorized to be on the helicopter.

Thomas Marovich, a U.S. Forest Service firefighter, died on July 21, 2009 when he fell while performing routine helicopter rappelling proficiency training while assigned to the Backbone fire near Willow Creek, California. The USFS report was posted and later removed from the Lessons Learned web site, but Wildfire Today was able to report on it while it was still public. The National Transportation Safety Board Narrative revealed that Mr. Marovich’s “J” hook had been attached to a rubber “O” ring, rather than to a load-bearing Tri-link (see the photos below).

Marovich gear

Before the rappelling attempt, four people looked at or inspected Mr. Marovich’s rappelling gear: the spotter trainee who installed the “O” ring, Marovich, and in the helicopter a spotter, and another helitack crewperson who did a “buddy check”.

Legislation to be introduced in Colorado would provide 4 firefighting helicopters and an air tanker

A Colorado state senator will be introducing legislation that would provide $9 million for four helicopters and an air tanker to suppress wildfires. A bill approved last year created the Colorado Firefighting Air Corps (CFAC) but failed to appropriate any funds to run the agency or acquire any aviation assets.

The legislation specifies that a contract be issued for one Type 1 air tanker or a very large air tanker and four helicopters.

(The rest of the story, including the permanent acquisition of four air tankers, is on Wildfire Today.)