Man killed during mulch operation in Utah identified; headed charter helicopter company

The man killed during a mulching operation in Utah over the weekend has been identified as the brother-in-law of a state Senator and the owner of Provo-area helicopter company.

Bryan Burr, 58, was killed Saturday October 7 during Burned Area Emergency Response (BAER) operations on the Brian Head Fire in southwest Utah. Mr. Burr, from Alpine, Utah, was giving directions to a helicopter dropping straw mulch when he was struck on the head.

Mr. Burr is listed as the president and co-owner of Mountain West Helicopters LLC, according to his Linkedin page. A call to the telephone number listed for the helicopter charter service directed to the voicemail of Mr. Burr.

“Bryan was a good man, a religious person who valued his family very much, and those around him,” wrote Facebook user Thierry Richards, who said in a post he used to work for Mr. Burr. “He treated me kindly and straight forwardly. May he rest in peace.”

The Salt Lake Tribune newspaper reported Mr. Burr was the brother-in-law of Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah.

Additional details were not immediately available.

The Brian Head Fire burned over 63,000 acres in late June.  On August 25 BAER teams began dropping 3,200 tons of wheat straw from helicopter nets to cover the soil surface. The additional ground cover increases the germination of seeds dropped earlier and helps absorb raindrop impact lessening water runoff potential.

During runoff mitigation work on Saturday, the pilot saw the injured man and contacted others who called 911. Brian Head Marshall Jeff Morgan was flown to the remote site off State Route 143 about 1:45 p.m. and determined that the man had died.

“It was determined he likely died as a result of blunt force trauma from falling debris during the airdrop,” the Iron County Sheriff’s Office said, though it is unclear whether he was hit by straw mulch or debris from a nearby tree as the straw fell.

Since an aircraft was involved in the fatality the National Transportation Safety Board will be investigating the accident.

Map of the Brian Head Fire in southwest Utah. The red line was the perimeter at 2:30 a.m. MDT June 29, 2017. The white line was the perimeter 24 hours earlier.
Map of the Brian Head Fire in southwest Utah. The red line was the perimeter at 2:30 a.m. MDT June 29, 2017. The white line was the perimeter 24 hours earlier.

Utah man killed during helicopter mulch operation at Brian Head Fire

(This article was first published on WildfireToday.com, October 8, 2017.)

A man was killed Saturday October 7 during Burned Area Emergency Response (BAER) operations on the Brian Head Fire in southwest Utah. The 58-year old crew member on the ground from Alpine, Utah was giving directions to a helicopter dropping straw mulch when he was struck on the head. The pilot saw the injured man and contacted others who called 911.

Brian Head Marshall Jeff Morgan was flown to the remote site off State Route 143 about 1:45 p.m. and determined that the man had died.

Brian Head Fire map
Map showing planned BAER treatments on the Brian Head Fire.

A statement from the Iron County Sheriff’s Office read:

It was determined he likely died as a result of blunt force trauma from falling debris during the airdrop.

It was not clear from the statement if the man was hit by straw mulch or debris from a nearby tree as the straw fell.

The identity of the person killed has not been released.

Since an aircraft was involved in the fatality the National Transportation Safety Board will be investigating the accident.

Map Brian Head Fire Utah
Map of the Brian Head Fire in southwest Utah. The red line was the perimeter at 2:30 a.m. MDT June 29, 2017. The white line was the perimeter 24 hours earlier.

The Brian Head Fire burned over 63,000 acres in late June.  On August 25 BAER teams began dropping 3,200 tons of wheat straw from helicopter nets to cover the soil surface. The additional ground cover increases the germination of seeds dropped earlier and helps absorb raindrop impact lessening water runoff potential.

BAER treatments Brian Head Fire
File photo of a BAER team member on the Brian Head Fire, July 8, 2017. BAER team photo.

Our sincere condolences go out to the family, friends, and coworkers.
Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Charlie.
Typos or errors, report them HERE.

Aircraft reseeding burned area crashes in Utah

The pilot walked away with minor injuries

An Air Tractor 802 crashed January 17 in Utah about eight miles west of Vernon while reseeding an area that had previously burned. The pilot, who had minor injuries, told police the aircraft lost power and was unable clear terrain in the Sheeprock Mountains.

It occurred at about 5 p.m. after which the pilot walked for about two and a half hours until he was found by crews flying Utah National Guard Apache helicopters equipped with infrared sensors who happened to be training in the area.

Air Tractors are often used as air tankers, but this one was dropping seeds instead of retardant.

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

Typos or errors, report them HERE.

Utah legislature approves bill to allow authorities to disable drones near wildfires

The governor is expected to sign the bill.

Lawmakers in Utah have passed a bill that would allow authorities to disable drones that are flying close to wildfires. While the legislation would allow the aircraft to be shot down, it is more likely that they would be disabled by electronic devices that would jam the radio signal or force them to land. Violators could be fined up to $15,000 or be sentenced to 15 years in prison.

Below is an excerpt from an article at the Star Tribune:

…Bill sponsor Sen. Evan Vickers told The Associated Press that the state highway patrol and National Guard already have the technology.

“The redneck in me is just to shoot the damn thing,” Vickers told lawmakers, adding that it was much more “humane” to jam the drone’s signal.

He said the technology allows officials to target a specific drone and can be used without hurting other nearby aircraft or technology.

[Senator Vickers said] before the vote that the costs of fighting a small wildfire burning about 300 miles south of Salt Lake City would have been several million dollars if five drone flights hadn’t interfered.

“Now we’re way past, north of $10 million because we had to ground aircraft all because of a drone,” Herbert said.

The Washington County Sheriff’s Office has been investigating drones flying near the fire, which is burning on a rocky ridge above the town of Pine Valley, but no arrests have been made or suspects identified. The sheriff’s office has offered a $1,000 reward for information that leads to an arrest…

Memorial constructed for the crew of Tanker 11

On Saturday, June 3, families, friends, and coworkers gathered at the Bureau of Land Management’s Interagency Fire Center at the Cedar City Airport in Utah. They were there to honor the two pilots who died June 3, 2012 when the air tanker they were flying, Tanker 11, a P2V, crashed on the White Rock Fire near the Utah-Nevada border west of Cedar City. Killed that day were Captain Todd Tompkins and First Officer Ron Chambless, pilots for Neptune Aviation.

Tanker 11 at Libby Army Airfield, AZ, 6-15-2011 photo by Ned Harris
File photo of Tanker 11 at Libby Army Airfield, AZ, June 15, 2011. Photo by Ned Harris

A year ago firefighters in Utah began raising funds to purchase and install two 5-foot tall granite obelisks engraved with the names of the two fallen comrades and featuring a color image of Tanker 11. They were designed to be placed at the crash site, along with an interpretive sign detailing the events.

Saturday after the ceremony at Cedar City, nearly 100 people traveled to see the finished product. The following four photos were provided by Kris Bruington.

HERE is a link to Google Maps directions to the memorial site if you’re traveling from Cedar City.

Tanker 11 memorial Tanker 11 memorial

There are at least two well written online articles about the ceremony honoring the pilots, here and here.

The photos below show the firefighters installing the obelisks.

Tanker 11 memorial Tanker 11 memorial

The same day Tanker 11 crashed in 2012, the pilots of another P2V survived a harrowing landing at Minden, Nevada when only one main landing gear and the nose gear were able to be lowered and locked on Tanker 55 operated by Minden. That accident was captured on video.

Video of MAFFS drop on Rockport Fire

This video was shot from a Modular Airborne FireFighting System (MAFFS) military C-130 aircraft operated by Lt Col Todd Davis and his crew as they dropped on the Rockport Fire near Park City Utah, July 25, 2014. You can clearly hear the radio conversations between the lead plane and the other aircraft.

MAFFS pilot talks about landing without a nose wheel

MAFFS hard landing
The MAFFS 3 air tanker experienced a hard landing at Hill Air Force Base, Utah, Aug. 17, 2014 following an in flight emergency. There were no injuries and only minor damage to the aircraft. Photo supplied by Hill AFB, Utah. (click to enlarge)

More details are coming to light regarding the Modular Airborne FireFighting System C-130 that landed August 17 without the nose wheel fully extended.

Maj. Derik George, a C-130 pilot with the Air Force Reserve Command’s 302nd Airlift Wing was part of the crew that recently received the Air Mobility Command Chief of Safety Aircrew of Distinction Award for their efforts following a landing gear malfunction while fighting fires in southern Utah.

The MAFFS C-130 crew was attempting to land at Hill Air Force Base, Utah after conducting aerial firefighting missions in southern Utah Aug. 17, 2014 when Maj. Jack Berquist, aircraft commander, and George, co-pilot, realized the nose landing gear was not functioning properly.

“As we were approaching to land, Maj. Berquist, who was flying, asked for the gear down. After lowering the landing gear we got an unsafe gear indication in the nose,” said George.

The crew stayed in the traffic pattern at Hill and started on their emergency procedures. There are three ways to get the nose landing gear down but none of them worked. They called a Lockheed Martin engineer and test pilot but neither call fixed the problem. The U.S. Forest Service sent a lead plane to see if that pilot could determine what was wrong from flying underneath the aircraft, but again, nothing helped. After more than three hours of circling the airfield, the crew determined they had no other choice but to attempt a landing.

“At that point we said, ‘well, we are out of options, we are just going to land with the nose gear up.’ We called the tower, and they were able to put foam on the runway, that way it would arrest any fire that might start. We ran our checklists again, making sure we hadn’t forgotten anything. Jack Berquist was flying, he did a fantastic job. I don’t think he could’ve done any better. He held the nose up as long as possible and was able to get the nose on the ground in the foam,” said George.

The aircraft came to a stop and the tower let the crew know a small fire started under the nose. The crew shut everything down and egressed to a safe area. The emergency crews on the ground quickly put the fire out.

“The most rewarding thing of the whole day was how well the crew worked together,” said George, who has nearly 1,500 C-130 and more than 3,700 total flight hours. “The navigator was Active Duty, I was a Reservist. The other four crew members were Wyoming Air National Guard. It was very seamless. Everybody knew exactly what to do. MAFFS crews are some of the most highly experienced and best trained crews in the Air Force.”

The efforts by the MAFFS 3 crew resulted in the safe return of six airmen and only minor damage to a $37 million aircraft.

“Other than the fact that there was a mechanical malfunction, which is pretty rare, there was nothing that surprised me about this event. We look for top notch people, we train hard. They tried ‘A,’ they tried ‘B,’ they tried ‘C,’ and they ended up having to do ‘D,'” said Lt. Col. Luke Thompson, 302nd AW chief of aerial firefighting. “It all worked, just the way it should have.”

Besides Berquist, Goebel and George, the other crew members were flight engineer Tech. Sgt. Damian Hoffmann, and load masters, Master Sgts. Brandon York and Christian Reese.

Four C-130 wings perform the MAFFS mission, each providing two MAFFS-capable aircraft and the air and ground crews needed to operate them. They are the 145th Airlift Wing, North Carolina Air National Guard; 146th Airlift Wing, California Air National Guard; 153rd Airlift Wing, Wyoming Air National Guard; and the 302nd Airlift Wing, Air Force Reserve Command, in Colorado.

NTSB report on the crash of Tanker 11

Air Tanker 45
Air Tanker 45, similar to Tanker 11, on final to drop on the Whoopup Fire near the South Dakota/Wyoming state line in 2011. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

The National Transportation Safety Board probable cause report on the June 3, 2012 crash of Tanker 11 concluded that while preparing to drop retardant on the White Rock fire near the Utah/Nevada state line, the flight crewmembers “did not properly compensate for the wind conditions while maneuvering”. The aircraft impacted the ground before it reached the location for the intended drop, causing the death of pilots Todd Tompkins and Ron Chambless.

A photographer got some pictures of the tanker as it was attempting to make the drop (below). It is likely that the pilots jettisoned the retardant when it became obvious they were too low.

tanker 11 crash
Tanker 11 before the crash. Photo from NTSB.

The P2V, operated by Neptune Aviation, was about to make its second drop on the fire that day. Shortly before the crash it made a dry run over the target area, then when lining up for the drop on the next pass took a different path, which was lower, and made a wider right turn, according to the report.

T11 flight pathThe same day that Tanker 11 crashed, another P2V, Tanker 55 operated by Minden, had a mechanical failure and landed at Minden, Nevada with a main landing gear not fully extended. The aircraft was heavily damaged, but there were no serious injuries. The landing was recorded on video.

In June of this year Tanker 48, another Minden P2V, landed with a collapsed nose gear. Thankfully there were no reported injuries.

We covered the 2012 accidents on Wildfire Today (before Fire Aviation was created).

On June 26, 2010 air tanker 44, a P2V operated by Neptune Aviation also experienced a hydraulic failure upon landing, had no brakes, and went off the runway at Rocky Mountain Metropolitan Airport (JeffCo) in Colorado (map). Both pilots self-evacuated and were walking around when the fire apparatus arrived to put out a fire in one of the engines. Neptune repaired the aircraft and put it back into service.

The NTSB released a nine-page Factual Report on the crash of Tanker 11. Below is the complete text of the one-page probable cause report, released September 24, 2014:

****

14 CFR Public Use
Accident occurred Sunday, June 03, 2012 in Modena, UT
Probable Cause Approval Date: 09/24/2014
Aircraft: LOCKHEED P2V-7, registration: N14447
Injuries: 2 Fatal.

NTSB investigators either traveled in support of this investigation or conducted a significant amount of investigative work without any travel, and used data obtained from various sources to prepare this public aircraft accident report.

Tanker 11 departed the tanker base to conduct its second fire retardant drop of the day in the same location. Upon arriving in the fire traffic area, Tanker 11 followed the lead airplane into the drop zone, which was located in a shallow valley 0.4 mile wide and 350 feet deep. The lead airplane flew a shallow right turn onto final and then dropped to an altitude of 150 feet above the valley floor while approaching the intended drop zone. While making the right turn onto final behind the lead airplane, Tanker 11’s right wing tip collided with terrain, which resulted in a rapid right yaw and subsequent impact with terrain. The wreckage created a 1,088-foot-long debris field, and a postimpact fire ensued.

Two witnesses took photographs of the accident sequence photos, and an examination of these photographs showed that the lead airplane was positioned ahead of the tanker throughout the flight; however, the orientation of the lead airplane compared to the orientation of Tanker 11 indicated that Tanker 11 did not directly follow the lead airplane’s path to the final drop course. Rather, it was about 700 feet left of the lead airplane’s path and made a wider right turn as it attempted to align with the final drop course. The accident flight crewmembers had previously flown nearly the same exact drop and the lead pilot cautioned them about tailwind conditions during the flight; however, the wider turn suggests that they did not properly compensate for the wind conditions while maneuvering. In addition, the previous flight was conducted at an altitude above the ridgeline. GPS evidence indicates that the accident flight was conducted below the ridgeline, which would have made it more difficult to detect the rising terrain during the wider turn. A review of the airplane’s cockpit voice recorder audio information revealed that the flight crew did not recognize or attempt to correct the reduced clearance between Tanker 11 and the rising terrain until about 2 seconds before impact.

The National Transportation Safety Board determines the probable cause(s) of this accident as follows:

  • The flight crew’s misjudgment of terrain clearance while maneuvering for an aerial application run, which resulted in controlled flight into terrain. Contributing to the accident was the flight crew’s failure to follow the lead airplane’s track and to effectively compensate for the tailwind condition while maneuvering.