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”.

Air tanker fleet beefed up in California

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.

There is an extremely rare site in the photo above, at least in recent years — two DC-7 air tankers on active duty at an air tanker base in California. CAL FIRE has arranged for them to be on contract so that their 23 S-2T air tankers can rotate in for their annual maintenance. The wildland fire season in the state does not appear to be ending, so they had to do something to provide the needed maintenance for their airborne firefighting fleet while the fire danger remains high.

The state of Oregon routinely uses DC-7 air tankers, but the federal government stopped contracting for them a number of years ago.

Air Tanker 66 at Paso Robles Air Attack Base
Air Tanker 66, a DC-7, at Paso Robles Air Attack Base, January 19, 2014. CAL FIRE photo.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Forest Service in recent days has had a couple of P2V air tankers on duty. Yesterday Tanker 910, one of the two DC-10 11,600-gallon air tankers operated by 10 Tanker Air Carrier, was brought over from Albuquerque to be available at Santa Maria, California.

DC-10 air tanker landing at Santa Maria Air Tanker Base
DC-10 air tanker landing at Santa Maria Air Tanker Base January 18, 2014. USFS cell phone photo.

Video of CL-415s scooping, up close and personal

CL-415 scooping at Santa Fe Dam

CL-415 scooping at Santa Fe Dam

The images above are screen shots from the videos below, which were shot at Santa Fe Dam on Thursday. In addition to being the Incident Command Post for the Colby Fire at Glendora, California, east of Los Angeles, it has been the scooping point for the two CL-415 water-scooping air tankers working the fire. Los Angeles County Fire Department has been contracting for scoopers every fall for many years. In 2013 the contract was scheduled to end in December, but because of the drought and very dry fuel moistures the County extended the contract.

Being directly below the aircraft just after they lifted off the lake with full loads was not the safest place to be. Probably the pilots were wishing the folks with the cell phones were not there.

Below is one more screen shot from one of the videos.

CL-415 very close Colby Fire

Photos of aircraft on the Mountain Fire

Air tanker 07,  a P2V
Air tanker 07, a P2V, July 15 on the Mountain Fire in southern California. USFS photo by Steve Whitby.

These photos were graciously sent to us by Steve Whitby who took them on the Mountain Fire in July. The fire burned over 20,000 acres in and near the San Bernardino National Forest in southern California. Thanks Steve — great pictures!

Air tanker 73, an S2T
Air tanker 73, an S2T, flown by Mike Venable, July 15 on the Mountain Fire in southern California. USFS photo by Steve Whitby.
Tanker 910, a DC-10, July 16
Tanker 910, a DC-10, July 16 on the Mountain Fire in southern California. USFS photo by Steve Whitby.
CAL FIRE Helicopter 301 July 16
CAL FIRE Helicopter 301 July 16 on the Mountain Fire in southern California. USFS photo by Steve Whitby.
Erickson Air-Crane July 16 on the Mountain Fire
Erickson Air-Crane, July 16 on the Mountain Fire in southern California. USFS photo by Steve Whitby.

Tanker 131 on the Wheeler Fire

T-131 on the Wheeler Fire, November 14, 2013

Britt Coulson sent us this very impressive video and the excellent photos of their C-130-Q, Tanker 131, dropping on the Wheeler Fire in southern California. The still photos were taken by Michael Meadows on Thursday, November 14 and are used here with his permission.

You have to watch this video. I have seen lots of forward-looking videos shot from the cockpit of air tankers, but this one looking toward the rear allows you to see where the retardant hits the fire. Very impressive. We asked Britt for some details about the camera:

It is the newest version of GoPro and they mounted it on the rear ramp door. The C-130Q has a hole where the low frequency RF cable used to go out that was later converted to a window with bars over it so it doesn’t get damaged. We build a housing that attaches to the bars and holds the camera. I believe they activated it before they took off then just cut the video down.

They have another camera mounted on a wing tip but it was not turned on for this flight. The photo below was taken from that camera.

T-131 from wing tip camera

The Wheeler Fire, north of Santa Paula in Ventura County, was contained at 64 acres. T-131 dropped 10,500 USG over 3 sorties and 5 drops.

Coulson’s exclusive use contract with the U.S. Forest Service ended for the year on November 15 but the agency gave them an extension based on fire activity.

Click on the photos to see larger versions.
T-131 on the Wheeler Fire, November 14, 2013 T-131 on the Wheeler Fire, November 14, 2013Thanks Britt and Michael!