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”.

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11 thoughts on “Cause of helicopter hoist fatality similar to earlier rappel death”

  1. Perhaps the same mishap investigation also identified poor equipment design and the requirement for an equipment mod to move or remove the non load bearing D ring?

  2. How about marking the proper load bearing ring with a noticable, contrasting color, and the attachment hook to the tri anchor the same way? Red to Red so you don’t wind up on your head. Pink to Pink, so you don’t wind up in the drink. Yellow to Yellow saves a fellow. White to White, makes it right. And for sure, disable any extraineous “D” rings even near.

  3. A tragic ending with a needless death.

    A non-law enforcement person carrying a firearm on a law enforcement mission?

    A clutter of equipment?

    Volunteers on high risk missions?

    Was a risk assessment done?

    Who was in charge of the whole operation?

    1. I am a former member of the High Sierra Volunteer Trail Crew. This tragedy should have never happened. However, I expressed concern many years prior that in my opinion Civilians should not have been involved in Government Raids, or allowed to have access to confiscated contraband. Mr. Krogen’s accident surprises me only in the fact he fatally injured himself and not a member of his group. Members of The Trail Crew as well as myself observed questionable acts that Mr. Krogen performed on occasion over the years.

  4. Having been a climbing guide for several years and having always instructed folks to maintain a secure tie-in to your anchor while you fully weight test your rappel set-up, it certainly makes me wonder why helicopter rappel operations never seem to advocate this. If they do, it is not obvious from the reports and most likely would have saved two lives to this point.

    1. I’m with you on that TK. In my day of rescue climbing and helicopter rappelling it was the ultimate responsibility of the guy on the rope to triple check his rig. But our buddies always helped with a safety check.

  5. Just out of curiosity since I really don’t know anything about rappelling- What is suppose to be the purpose of the rubber “O” ring??

    1. The “O” ring was used to keep the “J” hook in the correct position one the Tri-Link (the metal triangle looking deal pictured) and to keep it from rotating around while moving in the helicopter during rappel operations. The “O” ring is no longer used during USFS rappel ops.

    2. Its most likely used to keep the J hook positioned at the apex of the tri-link so you are putting weight at the apex of the tri link and not the locking mechanism or sides which would be weaker points in the tri link.

  6. The rubber ‘o’ ring was used on the J hook to keep it in place, to prevent it from cross loading on the tri link and hold it in place when hooked up to the descent device. How it was missed in multiple checks by several people is beyond me, particularly since it was no longer hooked onto the tri-link. The FS then abandoned all rappel operations for a year and decided to go to a single model/type for rappel operations. While there had been no incidents on Light helicopters and several on medium (Bell medium) helicopters, they elected to go with the medium helicopter as a rappel platform and make all training and procedures the same.

  7. Lets not forget the loss of an Italian sport climber who lowered off new draws on a sport climb. A friends mum had just purchased the new gear and assembled them using the same rubber bands to hold the binders in place!!
    Too much faff on your harness and the checker can get it wrong!

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