Navy helicopter collides with firefighting helicopter, both land safely

At Brown Field near San Diego, Nov. 22, 2022.

Damage to a Navy MH-60R Seahawk after colliding with a UH-60A Firehawk
Damage to a Navy MH-60R Seahawk after colliding with a UH-60A Blackhawk contracted to SDG&E Nov. 22, 2022. NBC7.

It is very rare to hear about a mid air collision of two helicopters which then land safely with no reported injuries of the five occupants.

It happened Tuesday night Nov. 22 at Brown Field near San Diego during a night training exercise that included two Blackhawk variants.

Damage to a Navy MH-60R Seahawk after colliding with a UH-60A Firehawk
Damage to a Navy MH-60R Seahawk after colliding with a UH-60A Blackhawk contracted to SDG&E Nov. 22, 2022. NBC7.

One helicopter suffered damage to the main rotor and the other had damage to the rear stabilator, City of San Diego Public Information Officer José Ysea said.

Ensign Bryan Blair, spokesperson for Commander, Naval Air Forces, issued the following statement: “On Nov. 22, an MH-60R Seahawk helicopter attached to Helicopter Maritime Strike Squadron (HSM) 41 made an emergency landing at Brown Field in San Diego after experiencing a collision with a helicopter contracted by San Diego Gas and Electric during a flight for a night training event. Both aircraft landed safely and there were no injuries to personnel. The incident is under investigation.”

UH-60A Firehawk contracted to SDG&E that collided with a Navy MH-60R Seahawk
File photo of the UH-60A Blackhawk contracted to SDG&E that collided with a Navy MH-60R Seahawk Nov. 22, 2022. SDG&E photo.

The second helicopter, a UH-60A Blackhawk, N160AQ, is contracted to SDG&E for firefighting in the utility’s service area. An SDG&E official issued this statement regarding the incident: “We have been made aware of the incident by our contractor who owns and operates the aircraft and the most important thing is that all parties are safe.”

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

Pilot of helicopter that started a fire with a landing light tells inquiry he did not see long grass before landing

File photo, MRH-90 helicopter
File photo of Australian Army soldiers of the 3rd Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment deplane from a 5th Aviation Regiment MRH-90 Taipan during Exercise Hamel 2014 at the Tolga Turf Club near Atherton, Queensland. (Photo: Australian Army)

As we reported in February, 2020 and later in December, 2020, a helicopter operated by Australia’s Army inadvertently started a bushfire January 27, 2020 in Namadgi National Park south of Canberra, in the Australian Capital Territory (ACT). It was caused by heat from the landing light on an MRH-90 Helicopter as it set down in the remote Orroral Valley for a crew break.

map bushfire in Namadgi National Park
Sentintel-2 satellite imagery of the bushfire in Namadgi National Park south of Canberra, Australia. February 4, 2020.

More information is coming into focus during an ongoing Coroner’s Court, including why the flight crew did not report the fire until after it landed 45 minutes later at an airport.

From the Australian Broadcasting Corporation:


Dramatic accounts of how an army helicopter codenamed Angel 21 started a fire in the Orroral valley in January 2020 during a toilet stop, have emerged from the first day of evidence in the coronial into the disaster.

The fire burned nearly 90,000 hectares (222,000 acres) of the ACT, also burning into the Clear Range in New South Wales, laying waste to farmland along the way.

Counsel Assisting the Coroner Kylie Nomchong told the court the fire started about 1:30pm on January 27 and by 2:25pm it had burned 20 hectares.

She said by later that afternoon, it had burned more than 1,000 hectares and was out of control, and by soon after 6pm, it had burned 18,000 hectares.

It was not put out for five weeks.

On Monday, the court listened to recordings of the crew of the helicopter Angel 21 in the lead-up to the landing and immediately afterwards.

One of the pilots described what he saw as he lifted off the ground.

“The downwash basically worked like a blow torch,” he said.

‘Come up, come up. We’ve started a fire’
The crew of the chopper had been part of Operation Bushfire Assist, in which the Commonwealth was providing resources for the ACT to monitor for fires during the tinder dry conditions in the 2019-2020 summer.

The court heard Angel 21 had been in the air for about two hours checking on the condition of helicopter landing pads, which might be needed if there was a fire, when there was an exchange between the crew members.

“What are the chances of a whiz break?” one of the crew can be heard asking in the recording.

The Coroner’s Court heard it was the decision of another officer to land, but that the pilot flying that day, who gave evidence on Monday, had done a risk assessment and found it to be safe.

But moments later on the ground, a voice is heard saying:

Come up, come up. We’ve started a fire. We’ve started a fire. Turn the search light out.

When asked about the long grass, the pilot said he had not seen it.

The army has admitted it was a light on the helicopter that sparked the fire in the extreme weather conditions that day, and it was revealed some time ago that the unscheduled stop was for a crew break.

The pilot told the court that he knew the searchlight was hot, but was unaware that it could get to 550 degrees Celsius.

Two pilots who gave evidence on Monday said they had been using the searchlight to make sure other aircraft could see them in the smoky hazy conditions that summer.

The court also heard a recording of communications from a fire spotter in a tower nearby, who reported the fire almost immediately.

In his first call he described a column of smoke, and in a later call described it as grey and a bit orange.

Soon afterwards, the ACT’s Emergency Services Agency (ESA) was receiving reports of smoke from residents on Canberra’s southern fringe.

The fire was in an inaccessible area, but local authorities quickly dispatched 19 appliances and 13 aircraft, including water bombers.

It was to no avail.

Chopper couldn’t communicate with ESA, court hears
The question before the inquiry is about communications, particularly between the army and the local ESA.

“There is a live issue in this inquiry as to when, if ever, the army told the ESA Angel 21 had ignited the fire,” Ms Nomchong said.

She also said that included the manner in which the fire started and the coordinates of the fire.

The pilot was questioned on Monday about who could be contacted from the aircraft.

He told the court he did have contacts for the ESA officers and the communication systems on board did not provide for contacting them.

Ms Nomchong: “No one on Angel 21 could communicate with the liaison officers at ESA?”.

Pilot: “Correct.”

Ms Nomchong played several recordings of communications between the second pilot and air traffic controllers on the way back to Canberra in which he never mentioned the fire.

She asked him why he didn’t say anything about how the helicopter had started a fire, or give the coordinates.

“My mind was on the safety of the crew and passengers,” he said.

The pilot said he’d been concerned the helicopter had also caught fire and was damaged.

“I was contemplating what was going to happen on landing,” he said. “It was a life and death situation.”

The coronial began in controversial circumstances.

Chief Minister Andrew Barr was against an inquiry, saying he didn’t want a witch hunt.

On Monday Coroner Lorraine Walker opened the hearings saying the object was not to crucify anyone, but rather to make things safer for everyone.

The inquiry is expected to hear from 11 witnesses in total, including from some NSW residents.

Nine NSW residents had previously been excluded from the inquiry because Coroner Lorraine Walker believed her jurisdiction did not cover their interests across the border.

The was overturned by the Supreme Court earlier this year.

Editor’s note 15/11/2022: The coronial inquiry has been put off until 2023, due to unforeseen circumstances which meant Chief Coroner Lorraine Walker was unavailable. The hearing was supposed to run for a week. A new date has yet to be set.

Orange County to purchase two Sikorsky S70 Firehawk helicopters

Expected delivery Fall of 2023

One of Orange County Fire Authority's new Blackhawks to become Firehawk
One of Orange County Fire Authority’s new Blackhawks, which will become a Firehawk. OCFA photo, Nov., 2022.

On October 27, 2022 after nearly three years of planning and assessment, the Orange County Fire Authority (OCFA) Board of Directors approved the purchase of two new Sikorsky S70 Firehawk helicopters. The new aircraft will replace the two OCFA 1966 UH-1H “Super Hueys” that were grounded in 2020 due to significantly increased cost of operating these legacy aircraft.

Firehawks have become the industry standard across the Southern California fire service, and with this approval, the OCFA joins its surrounding peer agencies — Santa Barbara Fire, Ventura County Fire, LA County Fire, San Diego Fire, and CAL FIRE — that already have Firehawk helicopters in their respective fleets.

One of Orange County Fire Authority's new Blackhawks to become Firehawk
One of Orange County Fire Authority’s new Blackhawks, which will become a Firehawk. OCFA photo, Nov., 2022.

Brian Fennessy, Chief of the OCFA since 2018, told Fire Aviation in March 2020,“All four of our aircraft need to be replaced.” The Chief has served as Air Operations Branch Director on Incident Management Teams.

Previously when he was Chief of the San Diego Fire Department he commissioned an independent study to evaluate and recommend which type of helicopters the organization should be flying into the future. A Fleet Replacement Analysis by Conklin & de Decker Associates was conducted. After that study and one for Los Angeles County Fire Department in 2000 both departments purchased Sikorsky S-70i Firehawks.

Chief Fennessy contracted for the same consultant to do a similar study at OCFA. They evaluated and compared five helicopters; Bell 212HP, Bell 412EP, Sikorsky S-70i, Airbus H215 Long, Airbus H215 short. The study was underway in 2020 and apparently came up with similar results.

The new OCFA aircraft will join OCFA’s two Bell 412EP helicopters, providing the agency with four operational helicopters for the first time since 2020 and empowering OCFA Air Operations to perform day/night aerial fire suppression, remote rescues, and other all-hazard missions at a far safer and capable level. True force multipliers in battling wildfire, the Firehawk’s water-dropping capabilities eclipse that of the Bell412s by 256% per tank-load (350 gallons vs. 1,000 gallons).

Orange County Fire Authority helicopters
Orange County Fire Authority, helicopters 1 and 4. By Bill Gabbert, February, 2020.

Before the new aircraft are delivered to the OCFA in fall of 2023, they must first be transformed from Blackhawk to Firehawk by United Rotorcraft, an industry leader in the design and manufacture of mission critical equipment. This transformation will include digital cockpit upgrades for ease of navigation while fighting fire and a reconfigurable cabin that accommodates up to 12 firefighting crew members and their equipment during emergency operations.

When the photos of the one of the new helicopters was taken a few days ago it was at the United Rotorcraft facility in Texas, where typically the company applies new livery. Then they will flown to another UA facility near Denver for rest of the lengthy conversion process.

One of Orange County Fire Authority's new Blackhawks to become Firehawk
One of Orange County Fire Authority’s new Blackhawks, which will become a Firehawk. OCFA photo, Nov. , 2022.

Another Air-Crane for South Korea

Aircrane helicopter to be delivered to South Korea
Aircrane to be delivered to South Korea, Nov, 1, 2022. Erickson photo by pilot Brad Pepper.

This month Erickson Incorporated will deliver another Air Crane firefighting helicopter to the Korea Forest Service (KFS). The agency has at least half a dozen S-64 Air Crane helicopters.

In 2001, KFS became the first foreign government to purchase S-64 helicopters from Erickson. The recently delivered versions have composite main rotor blades and glass cockpits. Some of the S-64 helicopters in the KFS fleet have the optional front-mounted water cannon.

Aircrane helicopter to be delivered to South Korea
Aircrane to be delivered to South Korea, Nov, 1, 2022. Erickson photo by pilot Brad Pepper.

Air tanker crash in Italy kills two

Near Linguaglossa, Sicily

A CL-215/415 air tanker crash Italy
A CL-215/415 banks sharply just before contacting the ground. October 27, 2022.

A Canadair CL-215/415 crashed while dropping water on a wildfire on the slopes of the volcano Etna near Linguaglossa, Sicily, Italy today. Both pilots were killed.

It had just released its load, banked sharply to the right, then crashed into the ground.

The registration number of the aircraft was I-DPCN. It was part of a fleet of 19 CL-415s owned by the Dipartimento dei Vigili del Fuoco, del Soccorso Pubblico e della Difesa Civile (Department of firefighters, public rescue and civil defense) but operated by Babcock, the company that  provides the Canadair service in Italy as part of an outsourcing contract.

We send out our sincere condolences to the family, friends, and co-workers of the two pilots.

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

CAL FIRE receives another FIRE HAWK helicopter

It will be deployed at Bieber in Lassen County.

CAL FIRE Helicopter 202
The new CAL FIRE Helicopter 202 arriving at McClellan in Sacramento, October 2022.  It will be stationed at Bieber in Lassen County. Mike McKeig photo.

The tenth of twelve new Sikorsky S70i FIRE HAWKs arrived at the CAL FIRE Aviation Management Unit last week at McClellan Park in Sacramento.

It will be deployed in northeast California at Bieber in Lassen County.

CAL FIRE is replacing their 12 Vietnam War-era Huey helicopters with Firehawks. Two more are still being built by Sikorsky or are being outfitted for firefighting by a company in Colorado.

CAL FIRE Helicopter 202, Bieber
The new CAL FIRE Helicopter 202  after arrival at McClellan in Sacramento, October 2022.  It will be stationed at Bieber in Lassen County. CAL FIRE photo.

Portugal to give their six Kamov helicopters to Ukraine

Kamov 32 at Loulé heliport in Portugal
Kamov Ka-32A on standby at Loulé heliport in Portugal. Photo by Bill Gabbert August 29, 2012.

The government of Portugal will give their six Kamov Ka-32A helicopters to Ukraine to be used in Russia’s war, said Helena Carreiras, Portugal’s Minister of National Defence.

In 2006 the government spent €348 million to buy six Kamov Ka-32A helicopters which could transport personnel and drop water, but over the last 10 years have had difficulty keeping them airworthy. In January none of the six were operational. The Helicopter Investor reported that in April the Portuguese government expelled a team of Russian mechanics working on three of the Kamovs, and shut down the hangar in Ponte de Sor where the maintenance crew was working.

The sanctions imposed on Russia have made it impossible for Portugal to maintain the helicopters. At this time none of them hold airworthiness certificates, and one is inoperable due to a crash.

Carreiras said: “At the request of Ukraine and in conjunction with the Ministry of Internal Affairs, we will make available to Ukraine our fleet of Kamov helicopters which, due to the current scenario, the sanctions imposed on Russia, we are no longer able to operate.”

The condition of the helicopters is already known by the Ukrainians, and they will be “transferred as they are … as soon as possible”, said Carreiras.

Lawsuit filed against US Forest Service over use of fire retardant

Air Tanker 914 DC-10 drops retardant Central Fire Arizona Phoenix
Air Tanker 914, a DC-10, drops retardant on the Central Fire, June 20, 2020. Photo by JDH Images.

This article was first published at Wildfire Today.

An environmental group filed a lawsuit in a Montana federal court Tuesday alleging that the US Forest Service has polluted waterways by inadvertently dropping fire retardant in or near waterways.  The retardant was dropped by aircraft under contract with the Forest Service while assisting wildland firefighters on the ground.

The suit says government data released earlier this year showed more than 760,000 gallons of fire retardant was dropped into waterways between 2012 and 2019. The lawsuit alleges the continued use of retardant from aircraft violates the Clean Water Act and requests a judge to declare the pollution illegal.

retardant avoidance areas
Example of retardant avoidance areas (red) in Northern California along Hwy. 96 near Klamath River.

The Forest Service has established retardant avoidance areas along waterways where the liquid is not supposed to be applied. This puts buffer zones around waterways and habitat for some threatened, endangered, and sensitive species in order to avoid applying retardant in those areas. When they were first established in 2011 it resulted in approximately 30 percent of USFS lands being off limits for retardant while fighting fire. There is an exception if human life or public safety is threatened. The policy was the result of an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) that studied the use of retardant and how it affects water resources and certain plant and wildlife species. The EIS was written in response to a July, 2010 decision by U. S. District Court Judge Donald Molloy in a lawsuit filed in 2008 by the Forest Service Employees for Environmental Ethics.

The same organization, FSEEE, filed the new case yesterday. An attorney in Missoula, MT who specializes in environmental law, Tim Bechtold, will be representing FSEEE. Presiding over the case will be District Court Judge Dana Christensen. He joined the court in 2011 after a nomination from President Barack Obama. Before, he was a partner in the firm of Christensen, Moore, Cockrell, Cummings, and Axelberg, in Kalispell, Montana. One of the 15 practice areas the firm deals with today is environment and natural resources.

In 2012 FSEEE issued a statement criticizing the use of air tankers on fires, claiming it is “immoral”. The group argued that aerial firefighting is too dangerous and ineffective and that “retardant doesn’t save homes; proper construction and landscaping save homes.”