A few more details available about the helicopter accident at Donnell Fire in California

A company representative described it as a forced landing

The pilot walked away from what is now being described as a forced landing of the helicopter that went down August 25 while on a water-dropping mission on the Donnell Fire on the Stanislaus National Forest in California. After walking some distance from the accident site and being treated on-scene by paramedics the pilot was admitted to a hospital for observation overnight. He is expected to make a full recovery.

Ian Gregor, communications manager with the Federal Aviation Administration, said on Monday that the helicopter “crashed and rolled” at the accident site.

According to an August 27 article in the Union Democrat, Kevin Shields, a representative of Roberts Aircraft, said their Bell 212 had a forced landing due to “some unknown event that was occurring with the aircraft.”

Bell 212 Kachina
File photo of a Bell 212 operated by Kachina Aviation, taken by Akradecki March 16, 2007.

Firefighting pilot honored in memorial service in Australia

Pilot Allan Tull, known as “Tully” to the Australian helicopter community was posthumously awarded the NSW Rural Fire Service Commissioner’s Commendation for Service during a memorial service held in New South Wales, Australia August 23.

Allan James Tull helicopter pilot
NSW RFS photo

(This article first appeared at Collective Magazine)

Allan James Tull, known as “Tully” to his friends and colleagues, lost his life doing what he loved on August 18th while fighting the Kingiman fire outside of Ulludulla in western New South Wales when his firefighting helicopter struck a tree.

The memorial service was held at Bankstown Airport near Sydney at the hangar of Sydney Helicopters, the owner of the BK-117 contracted to the New South Wales Rural Fire Service. The award given posthumously to Mr. Tull was presented to family members by New South Wales Rural Fire Service Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons.

Allan James Tull helicopter pilot
NSW RFS photo

The award citation stated:

“Allan James Tull known as ‘Tully’ to his friends and colleagues, was born in New Zealand in April 1961. With a passion and love for flying Allan Tull was first introduced to the skies in 1988 when gaining a student pilot’s license. Further refining and learning Allan Tull was later awarded his Commercial Helicopter Pilots License in late 1998.

“Since gaining his pilot’s license, Allan Tull has logged over numerous decades thousands of flying hours across a broad range of industries including firefighting, mining, hunting and fishing in New Zealand, Australia, Papua New Guinea, Indonesia, Inner Mongolia, China, United States, Canada and Guam.

“On Friday 17 August 2018, whilst flying a BK117 Helicopter for Sydney Helicopters, Allan Tull was tasked to water bomb the Kingiman Fire within the Shoalhaven Local Government Area. A task that Allan had done so many times for so many communities across New South Wales. Flight crews played a critical role in containing the Kingiman fire enabling ground crews to consolidate containment lines. During this water bombing operation an unfortunate event occurred that resulted in Allan tragically losing his life while protecting communities.

“The New South Wales Rural Fire Service offers to the family and friends of Allan Tull our deepest condolences. Allan Tull or “Tully” will always be remembered as an accomplished pilot and member of the firefighting fraternity for his professionalism and courage which will never be forgotten.”

Allan James Tull helicopter pilot
NSW RFS photo
Allan James Tull helicopter pilot
NSW RFS photo

Mr. Tull’s funeral service will be held in his native New Zealand Friday August 31 at 11 a.m. at the Tauranga Sport Fishing Club. All are welcome.

Air show at Santiago Peak as Holy Fire wakes up

(Originally published at WildfireToday.com at 1:09 p.m. PDT August 27, 2018)

S-2T air tanker Holy Fire Santiago Peak California
An S-2T air tanker makes a drop on the Holy Fire at Santiago Peak in Southern California, at about 1 p.m. PDT August 27, 2018. Image from HPWREN camera. Click to enlarge.

The Holy Fire has been relatively quiet for the last 12 days, with the reported size of 22,986 acres remaining the same since August 15.

But that changed today when a spot fire ignited across the fireline and once again threatened the numerous electronic sites at Santiago Peak. Those facilities supply many of the television, radio, and communications links for the greater Los Angeles area, along with other sites in the area.

The fire originally started August 6 near Holy Jim Canyon in the Santa Ana Mountains southeast of Los Angeles.

The fire was burning quiet well, as you can see in these photos, but by noon or 12:30 p.m. local time the intensity had decreased, due in part to drops by air tankers and helicopters.

These images were captured from live cameras on Santiago Peak, HPWREN and KWAVE.

(To see all of the articles on Wildfire Today about the Holy Fire, including the most recent, click HERE.)

S-2T air tanker Holy Fire Santiago Peak California
An S-2T air tanker makes a drop on the Holy Fire at Santiago Peak in Southern California, August 27, 2018. Image from HPWREN camera. Click to enlarge.
S-2T air tanker Holy Fire Santiago Peak California
An S-2T air tanker makes a drop on the Holy Fire at Santiago Peak in Southern California, August 27, 2018. The image is from a HPWREN camera that has droplets of fire retardant on the lens. Click to enlarge.
BAe-146 air tanker Holy Fire Santiago Peak California
An RJ85 or BAe-146 on final to drop on the Holy Fire at Santiago Peak in Southern California, August 27, 2018. Image from HPWREN camera. Click to enlarge.
Holy Fire Santiago Peak California
Flare up on the Holy Fire at Santiago Peak in Southern California, August 27, 2018. Image from KWAVE camera. Click to enlarge.

Photos of P-3 Orion air tankers at McClellan

Also: A DC-10 and Coulson’s most recently converted C-130

Above: Air tanker 23 testing at McClellan.

When Sergio Maraschin saw our article about Airstrike Firefighters signing a call when needed contract with Colorado for their P-3 air tankers, he realized we needed some more current photos of the recently refurbished aircraft. He took these at various times over the last six weeks at Sacramento McClellan Airport.

The article linked to above has the details about Airstrike’s recent projects.

Thanks Sergio!

P-3 Orion air tanker T-23 T-17 T-912
Air tankers 17, 23, and 910.
P-3 Orion air tanker T-23
Air tanker 23, over McClellan.

Coulson’s T-134, a C-130Q, has come a very long way since April, 2017. Check out these photos, here and here, taken as the project was just getting started. It is amazing what private industry can do in 16 months when they want to convert an aircraft into an air tanker. The Air Force dithered for almost five years when they were supposed to be converting seven former Coast guard HC-130H aircraft into air tankers for the U.S. Forest Service, and never fully completed any of them. Now it appears the state of California will get the reborn air tankers, when and if the USAF completes the work.

T-134 C-130 Coulson
This is T-134, Coulson’s most recently converted C-130Q air tanker. Brett Coulson told us as far as they are concerned it is ready to fight fire. They intend to wait until after the fire season to paint it.

Helicopter crashes at helispot on Donnell Fire in California

The pilot walked away with minor injuries

A helicopter crashed at a helispot while working on the Donnell Fire in Northern California yesterday, August 25. Chris Fogle, the Incident Commander of the Incident Management Team running the fire said the pilot walked away with minor injuries which were treated on-site by paramedics.

The helicopter was described as a medium ship that was on a water dropping mission.  The pilot’s name has not been released but the family has been notified. The only location given was that it occurred “on the southwest fire perimeter within the containment zone”.

Since the Donnell Fire started on August 1 it has burned 35,000 acres in the Sierra Nevada Mountains in the Stanislaus National Forest 34 air miles south of Lake Tahoe. Most of the fire that is still active is 7,000 to 9,000 feet above sea level.

The fire is a “less than full suppression fire” and Sunday morning had seven helicopters assigned. It has destroyed 135 structures.

helicopter water drop Donnell Fire
A screenshot captured from a video on InciWeb, showing a helicopter (unknown which one) on a water dropping mission on the Donnell Fire at Eagle Creek. It was posted to InciWeb August 16, 2018.

Colorado signs CWN contract for P-3 air tankers

Airstrike Firefighters has made Tanker 23 fire-ready and plans to do the same for six more P-3’s

Tanker 27, a P-3
Tanker 27, a P-3, on the Middle Fork Fire, Oregon, 2009. Todd McKinley.

The Colorado Division of Fire Prevention and Control (DFPC) has signed a call when needed (CWN) agreement with Airstrike Firefighters to provide large airtanker services for wildland fire suppression.  The agreement will allow the State of Colorado to access Airstrike’s P-3 airtankers to help combat wildfires in the State.

The RADSII constant flow tank design can carry 3,000 gallons of retardant. Since May, 2017 Airstrike has been refurbishing Tanker 23 at Sacramento McClellan Airport concentrating on inspections and the structural integrity program.

“This new agreement ensures that we could have the appropriate suppression resources available to protect the citizens of the State of Colorado for years to come,” said Vince Welbaum, DFPC Aviation Unit Chief. “The P-3 Orion is a proven aerial asset that can operate efficiently in our high-altitude and high-temperature conditions.”

Scott Schorzman, Vice President of Airstrike Firefighters said “We are excited about our new partnership with the State of Colorado. Our P-3’s are proven performers in Colorado’s challenging environment and we are committed to responding to the State’s needs quickly and efficiently.  In addition, as more P-3 firefighting airtankers come online we will make them available to the State of Colorado as they need them.”

retardant tank control panel
The retardant tank control panel on T-23.

Airstrike hopes to get carding inspections scheduled by the U.S. Forest Service in the near future for Tanker 23 which has undergone the inspections and maintenance to make it fire-ready. Since it is using the same retardant delivery system the P-3’s utilized for years, they do not have to do the grid test, but they did complete a conformity test that included 60+ ground-based static drops to verify the tank was working as it did in the past.

In April of 2011, Aero Union, which had recently been bought by new owners, had eight P-3 air tankers under contract. By late July that number had been reduced to six when the Federal Aviation Administration found the company was not in compliance with the Fatigue and Damage Tolerance Evaluation and structural inspection program that was mandated by the company’s contract with the U.S. Forest Service.

P-3 air tanker
A P-3 Orion drops on a fire near Cedar City, Utah in 2006. From Zion Helitack.

At that time Tom Harbour, director of the Forest Service’s Fire and Aviation Management program, cancelled the contract, saying, “Our main priority is protecting and saving lives, and we can’t in good conscience maintain an aviation contract where we feel lives may be put at risk due to inadequate safety practices”.  Some people described Aero Union as having been run into the ground by the new owners. The cancellation of the contract left only 11 large air tankers on exclusive use contracts, all P2V’s, down from the 44 on contract in 2002.

The P-3’s changed hands when UAC/Blue Aerospace acquired seven of them after the bankruptcy proceedings. Buffalo Airways then purchased T-22 in 2014 which for much of this year has been parked at McClellan. Airstrike is leasing it and bringing it back into compliance. They just finished the Nondestructive Testing and are moving forward with the Structural Integrity Program, Programmed Depot Maintenance, and the Annual.

In addition to buying and updating T-23, Mr. Schorzman said Airstrike is planning on acquiring the remaining five P-3’s. Their schedule calls for Buffalo’s T-22 and T-17 to be done in the Spring of 2019, then T-27 and another P-3 to be named later will roll out at the end of 2019.  Mr. Schorzman expects all seven to be “working for a living” by mid-2020, he said.

Pilot killed in crash of firefighting helicopter in Australia

The crash occurred on the New South Wales South Coast, August 17

The pilot was killed when the helicopter he was flying crashed while fighting a wildfire in New South Wales on the South Coast.  Reportedly the aircraft hit a tree while conducting water dropping operations on the Kingiman Fire west of Ulladulla. Video from local TV stations showed the wreckage near a structure.

The pilot, Allan Tull (Tully) died at the scene. His employer, Sydney Helicopters, wrote in a release:

Tully had a wealth of aerial firefighting experience and his aviation knowledge and skills were of the highest standard. He was regarded as one of the most experienced fire bombing pilots in the industry.

He will be sadly missed and our thoughts are with his family, friends, and colleagues at this difficult time.

Sydney Helicopters is the longest running commercial helicopter operator in Sydney, with aircraft housed at Parramatta Heliport.

helicopter that crashed
This is the helicopter that crashed, operated by Sydney Helicopters.

The helicopter, a 1994 Kawasaki BK117, was under contract with the New South Wales Rural Fire Service to fight fires.

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

Helitack crew is extracted as fire approaches, leaving water bucket attached to the helicopter

report crew extracted fire water bucket attached helicopter
Photo of the heel of the fire as seen from the helispot. Photo from the preliminary report.

(Originally published at 9:28 a.m. MDT August 20, 2018)

While researching another topic I ran across a preliminary report about a helitack crew that on July 1, 2018 was extracted by their helicopter after the wind changed on the fire, driving it toward their helispot. This occurred on the Spring Creek Fire in Colorado. Because of the timing of the events and since they had to quickly move 150 yards to another location as dense smoke made it unsafe for the helicopter to land at the helispot, it might be described as a close call. But it appears that the reason the report was written was that the crew decided to leave the water bucket and long line attached as they evacuated in the aircraft. Having passengers in a helicopter with a bucket attached is not consistent with policy.

Below are excerpts from the preliminary report. The photos are also from that document. Our opinion is at the end, following the excerpt.


NARRATIVE

…The HMGB [Helicopter Manager, Single Resource] called pilot and requested him to land and pick up the crew, thinking there was still plenty of time to load bucket, gear and crew members. At the time of radio call the pilot had just dropped water in view of the crew, and was less than thirty seconds from the helispot. Winds continued to increase from 10 to at least 30-35 mph. At this time fire behavior increased dramatically, causing all the vehicles parked near helispot (approximately six or eight) to mobilize as quickly as possible and drive down the road below.

The IC asked the crew face to face if we were all good before he left. The HMGB considered jumping in the vehicles for a ride but quickly decided not to. The Decision was based on the time it would take to physically get into vehicles, the time it was taking for the vehicles to actually get headed down the road, the location of the fire at the time, and not being familiar with the fire experience of the vehicles occupants. HMGB deemed it best for the helitack crew to stick together.

As aircraft approached helispot, the pilot informed crew that there was too much smoke to land, but had another landing zone in sight downslope. The crew grabbed gear and began hiking towards the aircraft’s hovering location approximately one hundred and fifty yards down down slope. Helitack crew arrived at the new landing zone as the helicopter was landing. HMGB and crew began loading gear on the pilots side, and had full intentions of loading bucket and longline, but HMGB noticed pilot signaling to plug in flight helmet. Crew members continued to load gear and HMGB went around nose of aircraft, opened managers door, stood on skid and plugged in flight helmet. Pilot advised that he recommended loading crew and picking up with the longline and bucket attached to get to a safe location. Pilot made decision based on the fires rapid progression from time crew left helispot and hiked down to the second LZ. HMGB took a quick scan of fire and agreed with pilot that we needed to lift ASAP.

report crew extracted fire water bucket attached helicopter
Two days later looking NNE. Red H is helispot. White circle is second LZ. Green arrow shows wind direction all afternoon. Yellow arrows show wind switch and fire spread direction.

HMGB went back to cargo area and told the two crew members to forget the bucket and load up we would lift with the bucket attached and relocate to a safe location. The crew members understood and agreed and loaded up. The HMGB made sure aircraft doors were secure, confirmed everyone was buckled and told pilot we were ready to lift. As aircraft lifted, the longline and bucket were on the managers side of aircraft. The HMGB relayed the status of longline to pilot until it was out of view and in view of the pilot out the bubble window.

As aircraft flew away, the pilot informed air attack exactly what we had done. The air attack understood and relayed that the fire experienced a microburst, and one hundred percent of the fire perimeter had active fire spread.The aircraft flew about one quarter of a mile well below the fires heel, over sage brush and grass fuel model, and found a safe place to land. Once on the ground the pilot informed crew we had plenty of fuel, and to take our time loading bucket. The aircraft departed landing zone and flew back to airport in Alamosa, CO to RON. The manager met with the rest of the crew and notified the crews superintendent. HMGB conducted an AAR, and notification was made up the chain of command in the region and the home base region.

report crew extracted fire water bucket attached helicopter
The photo shows the fuel at the helibase, vehicles, and the area where the helicopter was working.

CORRECTIVE ACTION

During the AAR, HMGB commended crew members for their vigilance on the scene of fire. Crew was constantly watching the fires behavior and spread, discussing the wind direction and different options to escape if needed. The black identified as a safety zone had a road going from the helispot up past it and was viable until the wind switched and increased pushing the fire up towards the road edge. The crew identified the helispot’s lack of burnable fuel and deemed it a safe spot. A later flight showed that the helispot did not burn, but when the IC decided to leave the spot, the crew did too. Plus one will never know how much heat was actually funneled over it. There was another open ridge downslope about 500-600 yards with a road leading to it that a helicopter could most likely land. The crew could have gotten a ride down to scout it out before the fire blew up, but that location didn’t have a vantage of the fire.

The crew actively talks with pilot about what to do in emergency situations. The crew had even talked earlier in the week about flying with a longline attached. It was comforting to know that those discussions took place and what to expect and the risk involved. The crew also practices proficiency bucket deployment, and packaging drills almost weekly. (Not with rotors turning) This gives managers and crew members a rough idea of how long it takes to perform these functions in the field. The HMGB on board has worked with the pilot for over eight seasons. The relationship, discussions, and trust built over the years was extremely valuable in the decision made that day.

Colorado DFPC Aviation Unit Chief comments:

Appropriate action taken during the extreme fire conditions and glad there was a positive outcome. Suggest a review of the additional risk decision to fly with the longline and bucket with personnel on board. The cost of a longline and bucket burning up is not worth the additional risk and exposure to employees. This is similar to teaching firefighters to drop their packs prior to deployment of a fire shelter from my perspective.

(end of excerpt from the preliminary report)


Our opinion

The report clearly outlines the fact that the crew felt they did not have time to package and load the bucket and long line, but there is no mention that they considered disconnecting it and taking off without it, leaving it on the helispot. Surely they did think about it, but the replacement cost if it was destroyed in the fire may have been a concern.

I support breaking the rules if there is an urgent, critical need to do so, and if all of the alternatives and possible outcomes are considered. Especially if a person’s life is threatened.

In 2012 a firefighter on the Pole Fire in Oregon was rescued from an advancing wildfire by climbing into a water bucket below a helicopter. The firefighter very reluctantly got into the bucket only after repeated warnings from the pilot that the fire was approaching and he was in immediate danger.

In 2014 on the King Fire east of Placerville, California when a hand crew was in danger of being overrun by flames a helicopter pilot considered using his bucket to extract the personnel. However, he continued to communicate with the crew and escorted them to safety as they walked and ran a considerable distance, orbiting over them and providing constant updates. The whole time he had water in his bucket saving it in case there was a need to protect the crew.