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.
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).
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”.