NTSB issues report about crash of night-flying helicopter

You may remember that on August 4, 2015 a helicopter with a water bucket crashed into a lake while helping to suppress a fire in Montana. It happened at about 10:30 p.m. when one of the helicopters owned by Two Bear Air, flown by Jordan White the executive director and flight officer of the company, was dipping water out of Beaver Lake north of Whitefish. Mr. White was able to extricate himself from the helicopter and swim to shore just before the aircraft sank. He had minor injuries and it was discovered that there was substantial damage to the helicopter after it was recovered from the lake bottom by divers.

The National Transportation Safety Board has issued a report about the accident, saying, basically, it was pilot error. The pilot reported that he was hovering over a lake at night while engaged in water bucket operations. He was using the MD Helicopters 369E landing light and newly installed movable searchlight positioned to shine underneath and toward the left side of the helicopter for illumination. He reported that he was able to see the shoreline, horizon, and the texture on the water during these operations.

During the third load, he reported that he was transitioning his sight “forward and inside to the instrument panel,” and that while he was scanning the instrument panel, he “noticed the rotor disk dipping toward the water.” He stated that he saw the main rotor blades strike the water and then the helicopter impacted the water. The cockpit filled with water as the helicopter rolled upside-down and began to sink. The pilot reported that while he was egressing from the cockpit underwater, he felt his “helmet tug backwards and I realized the communications cord was still attached to the helicopter.” The pilot removed his helmet, surfaced, and swam to the shore without further incident.

The recovery of the helicopter from the lake revealed substantial damage to the fuselage, the main rotor blade system, and the tail boom. The pilot reported there were no preimpact mechanical failures or malfunctions with the airframe or engine that would have precluded normal operation.

The pilot reported that he had prior formal external load training, but no formal over-water external load training. He reported that he had never had formal underwater egress training and was not wearing a flotation device at the time of the accident.

Night-flying firefighting helicopter crashes into Montana lake

Tuesday night, August 4, a helicopter with a water bucket crashed into a lake while helping to suppress a fire in Montana. It happened at about 10:30 p.m. when one of the helicopters owned by Two Bear Air, flown by Jordan White the executive director and flight officer of the company, was dipping water out of Beaver Lake north of Whitefish. Mr. White was able to extricate himself from the helicopter and swim to shore just before the aircraft sank.

We checked, and the sun will set at 9:06 p.m. in Whitefish, MT tonight.

After several hours of searching the lake with sonar, Flathead County Sheriff personnel and their dive team were able to attach floats to the helicopter, bring it to the surface, and take it to the shore.

Mr. White, the former Flathead County undersheriff, said the helicopter is not part of the Two Bear Air rescue fleet.

The company was founded by Mike Goguen, a managing partner of Sequoia Capital, the California firm that was the original financial backer of Apple, Google and YouTube, among others. He provides a Bell 429 and an MD 500E to any agency that needs a helicopter for a rescue mission — at no charge. He has spent $11 million purchasing, equipping, and operating the two rescue helicopters based in Whitefish, Montana.

In 2014 they flew 125 missions, an average of one every three days. In March, 2015 the Bell 429 used its night flying capabilities, hoist, and infrared sensor at 1 a.m. to locate a teenage girl who became lost and was pinned when a tree fell on her.

Articles at Fire Aviation tagged Two Bear Air.

Philanthropist provides rescue helicopters in Montana

Two Bear Air Bell 429
Two Bear Air’s Bell 429

A venture capitalist has spent $11 million purchasing, equipping, and operating two rescue helicopters based in Whitefish, Montana. Mike Goguen is a managing partner of Sequoia Capital, the California firm that was the original financial backer of Apple, Google and YouTube, among others. He provides a Bell 429 and an MD 500E to any agency that needs a helicopter for a rescue mission — at no charge.

We have written about Two Bear Air, the company formed to managed the helicopter company, twice before, in articles tagged Two Bear Air (naturally).

In 2014 they flew 125 missions, an average of one every three days.

In March the Bell 429 used its night flying capabilities, hoist, and infrared sensor at 1 a.m. to locate a teenage girl who became lost and was pinned when a tree fell on her.

Below is an excerpt from an excellent and detailed article in the Missoulian that brings us up to date on how the rescue operation came into being, and how it has been used in the last couple of years.

…A private citizen has spent millions of dollars of his own money to buy Two Bear Air’s helicopters, and pays every dime spent operating them on search and rescue missions.

“The resource provided to us, tax-free, is priceless,” Curry says. “The county could never afford a program that provides these resources.”

They include a $6 million twin-engine Bell 429 helicopter with $2 million worth of extras, including thermal imaging, night vision and infrared camera systems that allow searching to continue when it’s dark.

“It’s one of the best, if not the best, equipped aircraft in the western United States,” Curry says. Two Bear Air makes it available for search and rescue missions across western and central Montana, and in Idaho, 24 hours a day, at no cost to anyone except the part-time Whitefish resident who foots the bill for it all.

His name is Mike Goguen. He’s spent more than $11 million of his own fortune putting Two Bear in the air.

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

It took three aircraft to extract man in wilderness area with medical problem

It took three aircraft, two helicopters and a jet-powered fixed wing plane, to locate and extract a man in the Bob Marshall Wilderness in Montana on Wednesday. The man was not feeling well and used a GPS-enabled personal locator beacon to send a distress call. The first helicopter, unsure exactly where the man was, landed near some hunters to ask if they knew where the man might be. Upon trying to take off, it would not start. A MercyFlight jet was dispatched to look for the helicopter, which apparently could not communicate from the remote area, and located it. The problem was diagnosed by radio as a starter generator issue.

A second helicopter was dispatched which found the man in distress, off loaded two crew members, then transported the man with the medical problem to a hospital. From there it took a mechanic with the needed parts to the broken helicopter, then picked up the two crew members and the man’s dog and flew back to their base. The broken helicopter was repaired and flew back home safely.

The first helicopter was a MercyFlight EuroCopter 135 P2. The second was the Two Bear Air Bell 429, which is funded by Whitefish, MT philanthropist Mike Goguen who supports all costs of the operation with zero cost to taxpayers, with the mission of ultimately saving lives.

In 2012 we first wrote about Two Bear Air, which was initially called Flathead Emergency Aviation Resources (FEAR).

More details about the rescue are at dailyinterlake.

Non-profit organization provides rescue helicopter

Flathead Emergency Aviation ResourcesA non-profit organization is providing a helicopter for rescue services in the Flathead Valley of Montana. Flathead Emergency Aviation Resources (FEAR) is a non-profit, volunteer organization which provides air support to emergency service providers in the greater northwest region of Montana.

According to DailyInterLake.com, venture capitalist Michael Goguen has provided funding as well as a Bell 407 which belongs to Mr. Goguen’s company, Two Bear Management. FEAR has ordered a new $5 million twin-engine Bell 429 which will include a hoist, making it possible to more easily extract injured members of the public. The Bell 429 is being built now and should be available in the Spring.

Former Flathead County Undersheriff Jordan White, who now works for Two Bear Management, said:

To have met someone like Mike Goguen, with the unprecedented level of philanthropy he’s contributed to this program to make sure it not only happened but was a world-class program, is mind-blowing to me to imagine that it would ever get to this point.

One year ago we hoped that maybe in five years we’d have raised half a million dollars to buy an aircraft, and within a few months I had quit my job in order to make this whole thing happen and then was able to begin searching for a brand new twin-engine rescue-class helicopter.

The Bell 407 has been used for about eight missions since August.

FEAR’s web site lists the following types of missions for which they expect to use the helicopter:

  • Search and Rescue – Conducting hasty searches in both urban and rural environments.
  • Tactical operations – Providing tactical teams with overhead security during high risk operations.
  • Body recoveries – Hauling deceased victims from remote locations back to their loved ones.
  • Evidence transportation
  • Environmental protection
  • Border security
  • Education
  • Aerial surveillance and search
  • Aerial photography
  • Transportation of personnel andequipment
  • Flying divers outside of Flathead County for a more expedient response.
  • Long Line operations
  • Transporting ground search personnel to and from remote loctations.
  • Mobile remote radio repeater services

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UPDATE November 8, 2013: The company changed their name from Flathead Emergency Aviation Resources (FEAR) to Two Bear Air.