Former VP of Carson helicopters disputes restitution ordered for tragedy on Iron 44 Fire

Seven firefighters and two pilots were killed in the 2008 helicopter crash

(This article was first published at Wildfire Today)

The former Vice President of Carson Helicopters is disputing a court order to pay $51 million in restitution related to his role in falsifying documents prior to the crash of a helicopter on the Iron 44 Fire (or Iron Complex) on the Shasta-Trinity National Forest near Weaverville, California in 2008. Steve Metheny, the former Vice President of Carson Helicopters, was sentenced to 12 years and 7 months in prison in 2015 but now he claims he was not aware of the requirement to pay restitution.

Carson helicopter
Below is an excerpt from an article in the Mail Tribune:

[Metheny] says he wouldn’t have pleaded guilty had he known he’d have to pay a restitution of more than $51 million, according to documents filed earlier this month in U.S. District Court in Medford.

Metheny claims that his defense lawyer assured him that he wouldn’t have to pay any damages because by June 2013, Carson’s contract “was canceled and never re-bid” and “the resultant cost and subsequent loss would equal zero dollars,” according to an affidavit Metheny typed from Federal Correctional Institution Lompoc and filed in court May 7.

Metheny claims he was “repeatedly promised” ahead of his sentencing that the loss amount would be “zero dollars.”

Metheny was accused of falsifying performance charts and the weights of helicopters his company had under contract to the U.S. Forest Service for supporting wildland fire operations. As of a result of his fraud, a Carson helicopter crashed while trying to lift off with too much weight from a remote helispot on the Iron 44 Fire in 2008. Nine people were killed, including the pilot-in-command, a U.S. Forest Service check pilot, and seven firefighters. The copilot and three firefighters were seriously injured.

Mr. Metheny went to great lengths after the crash to attempt to conceal the fraud. When he knew that investigators would be examining the company’s operations, he directed other employees to remove weight from other similar helicopters, including taking off a fuel cell and replacing a very heavy battery with an empty shell of a battery. Some of the employees refused to participate in that deception, with one explaining that he was done lying about the helicopter’s weight.

Defense lawyer Steven Myers argued that the helicopter pilot could have avoided the crash by doing a standard maneuver on takeoff, where the pilot hovers and checks his gauges.

Ann Aiken, a federal judge for the United States District Court for the District of Oregon, dismissed that argument, noting her father had flown helicopters in the Korean War, crashing 13 times. “Whether the gauges were right or not, the pilot didn’t have the right information,” Aiken told Metheny.

The Forest Service awarded contracts to Carson, including option years, amounting to over $51,000,000. Carson received $18,831,891.12 prior to the FS canceling the contracts.

Levi Phillips, 45, the former maintenance chief of Carson Helicopters, agreed to cooperate with authorities in the case against Mr. Metheny and pleaded guilty to a single charge of fraud. He was sentenced to 25 months in prison to be followed by 3 years of supervised probation.

More information about the fraud and the sentencing hearing of Metheny and Phillips.

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Kelly. Typos or errors, report them HERE.

Connecticut National Guard helicopter crews train for firefighting

Connecticut National Guard helicopter crews firefighting
Connecticut National Guard helicopter crews train with water bucket. Screengrab from NBC Connecticut.

NBC Connecticut has a story about the annual training conducted by the Connecticut National Guard helicopter crews to maintain proficiency with an external water bucket.

Below is an excerpt from the article:


“We’re the ones in the back actually releasing the water, we have the button that releases the water so the pilots are going to kind of aim where they want it and we’re responsible for making the call of when to release the water,” said Sgt. Michael Justo, Connecticut Army National Guard.

In 2015, the Connecticut National Guard was called upon to help fight forest fires in the mountains in Southern Kosovo.

 

Air-Crane extracted after crashing into lake in Australia

It impacted the water while assigned to a wildfire in Victoria on January 28, 2019

Air-Crane extracted from lake crashThe Sikorsky S-64E Air-Crane helicopter that crashed into a lake near Jericho, Victoria, Australia has been extracted. It impacted the water while assigned to a wildfire on January 28, 2019, then sank and came to rest inverted resulting in minor injuries to the three crewmembers.

Air-Crane extracted from lake crash

Below is an excerpt from a report by Emergency Management Victoria:

The specialist salvage operation has involved the use of underwater divers surveying helicopter and undertaking initial disassembly work, including the water tank and hoses while Christine is submerged.

The complexity and scale of the operation has required months of careful planning and design. Due to the limited space, remote location of the dam and the size of the aircraft, a purpose-built lifting device has been designed to remove the Air-Crane from the dam.

The main components of the Air-Crane have been removed from the remote location by truck to a decontamination site to be sent back to America. The salvage operator will begin working on the environmental rehabilitation of the work site.

Photos and video courtesy of Australian Aviation Salvage & Recovery.

The Australian Transport Safety Bureau is investigating but has not yet released a report.

Blackhawk helitack crew wins Lead by Example Award

BLM's Boise Helitack Crew
BLM’s Boise Helitack Crew received one of the 2018 Lead by Example Awards. Screenshot from BLM video.

The Bureau of Land Management’s Boise Helitack crew has been named one of the 2018 winners of the Paul Gleason “Lead By Example” award.

The Boise Helitack crew was recognized for its innovation and leadership in introducing the use of the Sikorsky UH-60 Blackhawk helicopter into the initial attack environment of wildland fire suppression. The Boise crew’s use of a Blackhawk helicopter for crew transport and deployment represents the first time a wildland fire agency has configured and tested a Blackhawk for this purpose.

“Your crew’s vision and constant motivation to see the program come into its full potential in spite of delays and challenges is the epitome of resilience,” said John Wood, who co-chairs the leadership committee for the National Wildfire Coordinating Group—the entity that bestows the Paul Gleason “Lead by Example” award.

During the 2017 and 2018 fire seasons, the Boise Helitack crew voluntarily took on the assignment of working through the rigorous regulatory, configuration and testing requirements necessary to certify the Blackhawk before it could be used in the interagency wildland fire suppression arena. The crew carefully developed the methods and standard procedures necessary to adapt the large helicopter to the crew’s initial attack mission.

A “helitack crew” is a group of highly trained wildland firefighters who fly by helicopter into remote and inaccessible areas on wildland fires. Once the crew is delivered to the fire, they quickly assess the fire and begin suppressing it.

The “Lead By Example” award is named for Paul Gleason, a long-time fireline supervisor and fire manager who developed a foundational philosophy of fireline safety. Mr. Gleason’s Lookout, Communication, Escape route and Safety zone checklist is now standard across the United States and other parts of the world.

The award was also presented to three other individuals for 2018:  Kim Lightley, Peter Barry,  and Kim Kelly.

Winners of the award prior to 2018.

From Wildland Fire Leadership

CAL FIRE’s Military Helicopter Managers training

It included underwater helicopter egress procedures

CAL FIRE's Military Helicopter Managers training

This weekend the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE) and the California National Guard are conducting Military Helicopter Manager training in the Sutter Creek area southeast of Sacramento. This annual training is a cooperative effort between the agencies. It included underwater helicopter egress procedures. Photos by CAL FIRE.

CAL FIRE's Military Helicopter Managers training
CAL FIRE's Military Helicopter Managers training

CAL FIRE's Military Helicopter Managers training

CAL FIRE's Military Helicopter Managers training

Irish Air Corp AW139 assists villagers and firefighters in Ireland

Seven hours after the fire started the military approved the use of an AS139 helicopter to assist firefighters.

wildfire in northwest Ireland
Hundreds of villagers attacked a wildfire in northwest Ireland April 22, 2019. Screengrab from Kevin Mcbride video.

(This article first appeared on Wildfire Today)

A large wildfire burned hundreds of acres April 22 in northwest Ireland. It started at about 6 a.m. in Annagry in West Donegal and quickly spread to the neighboring villages of Loughanure and Belcruit and towards Dungloe. At 1 p.m. the Minister of State with Responsibility for Defense, Paul Kehoe, approved the use of an AW139 helicopter from the Irish Air Corps to assist firefighters. Donegal County Council also hired a private company with a smaller helicopter to drop water.

Hundreds of villagers swarmed to the fire with hand tools in attempts to stop the blaze. There were no reports of injuries or structures being destroyed. By evening the spread had been stopped.

The Irish Sun reported that one firefighter said, “This is unreal stuff. I have battled a lot of gorse fires over the years but this is amongst the most dangerous. Everything is bone dry and there is a strong wind so these are perfect conditions for the fires to spread rapidly.”

wildfire in northwest Ireland map
Satellite photo showing smoke from the wildfire north of Dungloe in northwest Ireland, April 22, 2019. Heat is represented by red dots. Heat from a second fire can be seen west of Monaghan.

wildfire in northwest Ireland
Irish Air Corps photo.
wildfire in northwest Ireland
Irish Air Corps photo.
wildfire in northwest Ireland
An AW139 helicopter operated by the Irish Air Corp assisted firefighters. Irish Air Corp photo.
wildfire in northwest Ireland
An AW139 helicopter operated by the Irish Air Corp assisted firefighters. Irish Air Corp photo.

Navy Blackhawk battles wildfire at night

Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron Two-Five
Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron Two-Five based at Andersen AFB, Guam. US Navy photo.

A U.S. Navy Blackhawk helicopter, an MH-60S, helped suppress a wildfire that was threatening homes on Guam. Not deterred by darkness, the flight crew dropped 4,200 gallons of water using an external bucket.

Here is how the squadron describes their mission:

“HSC-25 is the Navy’s only forward deployed MH-60S expeditionary squadron. We provide an armed helicopter capability for US Seventh Fleet as well as detachments to various commands covering a diverse mission set. Flying the MH-60S, HSC-25 supports permanently assigned detachments to the USS Bonhomme Richard homeported in Sasebo, Japan, and Commander, Task Force 73. These detachments perform logistics, search and rescue, and humanitarian assistance for US Seventh Fleet. HSC-25 is a tenant command on board Andersen Air Force Base, Guam. HSC-25 provides 24 hour search and rescue (SAR) and medical evacuation (MEDEVAC) service for Guam and the Northern Marianas Islands.”

USS Bonhomme Richard
Pacific Ocean (July 25, 2006) – The Wasp-class Amphibious Assault Ship USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD-6) sails in formation with ships and submarines from the U.S. Navy as well as the Navies of the seven other nations. U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communications Specialist Seaman James R. Evans.

Below are videos of them dropping on other fires.