Preliminary information released about fatal helicopter crash in Arizona

Bryan Jeffrey Boatman
Bryan J. Boatman

The U.S. Forest Service has released preliminary information about the helicopter crash in which pilot Bryan Jeffrey Boatman, 37, was killed.

It occurred on the Polles Fire in central Arizona when Mr. Boatman was approaching a helispot delivering supplies by long line to firefighters in a remote area.

He was the only person on board the aircraft.

Below is the narrative from the Forest Service’s Preliminary Brief:

Narrative: On Tuesday, July 7, 2020 at approximately 1216 MST, a UH-1H helicopter, N623PB, impacted terrain with one occupant on board. The aircraft was performing long-line cargo delivery operations in support of fire suppression on the Tonto National Forest when the mishap occurred. The aircraft was under exclusive use contract with the USFS.

The NTSB investigation into this accident is ongoing. At this time, there are no indications of immediate safety concerns with other similar make/model of aircraft. All matters related to public information must be disseminated through the NTSB.

Mr. Boatman flew for Airwest Helicopters out of Glendale, Arizona. He leaves behind his wife Elizabeth Marie Boatman and his 8-year old daughter Claire Elizabeth Boatman. The family chose to hold a private funeral service. Donations in his memory may be made to the Wildland Firefighter Foundation (wffoundation.org).

UH-1H N623PB
UH-1H N623PB. Training in 2016. Photo: Jose Navarro.

Pilot killed in helicopter crash near Payson, Arizona

The helicopter was transporting supplies for firefighters in a remote area

(Updated at 8:35 p.m. MDT July 7, 2020)

July 7, 2020 helicopter crash
General area of the July 7, 2020 helicopter crash. ABC15 image.

Officials from the Tonto National Forest confirmed that a helicopter crashed July 7 while working on the Polles Fire in central Arizona. The only person on board was the pilot, who was deceased. He was identified in a press conference as Bryan Boatman, 37, with Airwest Helicopters out of Glendale, Arizona. He leaves behind a wife and 8-year-old child.

The Chief of the Pine-Strawberry Fire District said the pilot’s wife arrived at the Payson Airport as the body was being retrieved from the accident scene.

The helicopter crashed while transporting supplies for hand crews north of the main fire in a remote area only accessible on foot or by helicopter. After the crash was reported to the fire’s Incident Commander at 12:22 p.m. Tuesday, a Sergeant with the Sheriff’s office was transported to the scene by short haul, suspended on a rope under a helicopter. He and others began the process of the investigation and removing the pilot’s remains.

A Federal Aviation Administration spokesman said the UH-1H helicopter went down about 10 miles west of Payson.

A Temporary Flight Restriction (TFR) was issued at the Payson airport due to the crash, Airport Coordinator Dennis Dueker said, grounding all flights in the area.

As of Monday night the Polles Fire had burned 580 acres 11 miles west of Payson, Arizona.

The Southwest Area Type 1 Incident Management Team (IMT) #2 led by John Pierson assumed command of the fire July 6 at 6 a.m.

Six hotshot crews and three other hand crews are working in conditions described by the incident management team as extreme. They have been working shifts late into the evening for the last few nights, spiked out in remote locations relying on helicopters to fly in their food, drinking water, and supplies.

Our sincere condolences go out to the family and friends of the pilot, and the firefighters that were working on the Polles Fire.

Map helicopter crash Arizona Payson Polles Fire
Map showing heat detected on the Polles Fire by satellites at 2:06 a.m. MDT July 7, 2020.

Helicopters refill tanks at golf course while battling Central Fire north of Phoenix

N7095B, a Sikorsky CH-54A Skycrane fire wildfire
N7095B, a Sikorsky CH-54A Skycrane from Siller Helicopters, drafts from the Rancho Manana Golf Club en route to fight the Central Fire burning in the Tonto National Forest near New River, AZ on June 21, 2020. Photo by John Hall.

John Hall took these photos yesterday of skycranes refilling their tanks at a golf course while fighting the Central Fire east of New River, Arizona, 35 miles north of Phoenix.  You can see more of his photos on Instagram (@jdhimg).

Thanks John!

Skycrane “Isabelle” N178AC, a Sikorsky S-64F fire wildfire
Skycrane “Isabelle” N178AC, a Sikorsky S-64F from Erickson Incorporated fills her 2,500 gallon tank at the Rancho Manana Golf Club while fighting the nearby Central Fire burning in the Tonto National Forest near New River, AZ on June 21, 2020. Photo by John Hall.

Air Tanker 914 drops on the Central Fire north of Phoenix

The fire is 4 miles east of Interstate 17 near New River

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.

John Hall of JDH Images took these excellent photos of Air Tanker 914, a DC-10, dropping retardant on the Central Fire at about 5 p.m. June 20, 2020.

Mr. Hall told me that he was a firefighter 18 years ago. You can see more of his photos on Instagram (@jdhimg).

The fire has burned about 2,000 acres east of New River, Arizona. Wildfire Today has more information about the Central Fire.

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

(UPDATE at 4:38 p.m. MDT June 2, 2020)

I asked Mr. Hall if the retardant line created by the DC-10 Saturday held the fire. He said:

I drove by on New River Road yesterday and it looked like that retardant line held.  It kept the fire from spreading laterally, but it *raced* up the steep slope vertically and then crested onto the New River Mesa.  They’ve been chasing it up top since then. I don’t recall seeing any fire burn through any of the retardant lines on Saturday.  Quite the opposite, actually.

Photos of aircraft working the Bighorn Fire near Tucson

As of June 17 the fire had burned over 31,000 acres five miles north of the city

Bighorn Fire RJ85
An RJ85 operated by Aero Flite. Ned Harris photo.

Ned Harris sent us these excellent photos of air tankers and helicopters assisting firefighters on the Bighorn Fire, which as of yesterday had burned over 31,000 acres five miles north of Tucson, Arizona. Thanks Ned!

More information about the Bighorn Fire is at Wildfire Today.

Chinook Bighorn Fire
Billings Helicopters and Heligroup Chinooks. Ned Harris photo.
Bighorn Fire Tanker 164, an RJ85
Tanker 164, an RJ85 operated by Aero Flite. Ned Harris photo.
Bighorn Fire Tanker 105 Tanker 10 BAe-146
Tanker 105 (foreground), an MD-87 (N295EA) operated by Erickson Aero Tanker, and Tanker 10, a BAe-146 (N472NA) operated by Neptune Aviation. Ned Harris photo.
Sikorsky UH-60A Bighorn Fire
A Sikorsky UH-60A operated by Coulson/Unical. N160CD. Ned Harris photo.
Bighorn Fire Tanker 910, a DC-10
Tanker 910, a DC-10 operated by 10 Tanker Air Carrier drops on the Bighorn Fire. N612AX. Ned Harris photo.

Drones have been used on the Sawtooth Fire in Arizona

Unmanned Aerial System (UAS) module drone Sawtooth Fire
An Unmanned Aerial System (UAS) module on the Sawtooth Fire, June 3, 2020. InciWeb photo.

One of the aerial support tools firefighters have been using for a variety of tasks on the Sawtooth Fire 10 miles east of Apache Junction, Arizona are Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS or drones). UAS are gathering images and video and patrolling areas inaccessible to firefighters or larger aircraft. While this technology does not replace the need for large aircraft and helicopters, it does lower the risk to fire crews both in the air and on the ground. The UAS Operators are trained, qualified, and have constant communication with other fire aircraft.

Two C-130Hs begin the path to transformation

The aircraft will be converted into air tankers by Coulson Aviation

C-130H Coulson convert air tanker Tucson
Two Coulson C-130H aircraft being towed from the AMARG in Tucson Feb. 29, 2020. Coulson photo.

Yesterday the physical process of converting two C-130H aircraft formerly owned by the Norwegian military began when they were towed from the Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group (AMARG) in Tucson, Arizona. Coulson  Aviation (USA) Inc. purchased five C-130Hs through a complicated procedure that started in March, 2018 and was finalized at the end of 2019.

Thursday the two aircraft were moved from AMARG to a nearby facility where they will be brought back to life, with the goal to fly them both out in March for heavy maintenance and conversion into air tankers capable of fighting wildfires.

A third 737 is being converted
In 2017 Coulson purchased six 737-300’s to convert them into 4,000-gallon “Fireliner” air tankers capable of transporting up to 70 passengers. So far two conversions are complete, and Tankers 137 and 138 and have been dropping on fires in Australia during their 2019-2020 bushfire season. New South Wales bought T-137 and Coulson still owns T-138.  Britt Coulson, Vice President of Coulson Aviation, told us a third is in the pipeline; all of the parts have been manufactured and their team members are working on it.

C-130H Coulson convert air tanker Tucson
Two C-130H aircraft being towed from the AMARG in Tucson Feb. 29, 2020. Coulson photo.

An all-female helitack crew on a flight in Arizona

Helicopter Express Female Crew
Left to right: Ashlyn Parker (pilot), Natalie Bench, Dallas Baca, and Makenzie Mabery.

Ashlyn Parker, a pilot with Helicopter Express, let us know about an all-female crew on a recent flight while working near North Kaibab, Arizona supporting the Little Springs and Castle Fires:

A helicopter flight on July 14th had an all female crew — (left to right) Ashlyn Parker (pilot), Natalie Bench, Dallas Baca, and Makenzie Mabery. We also had another female helitack crew member who was on the ground staffing the helispot, Mariah Jones. Photo taken at Jacob Lake Helispot by Helitack crewmember JA Ford. Helicopter is a Helicopter Express 407HP.

Thanks Ashlyn!

I would have to think that this has probably happened before — an all-female crew on a firefighting helicopter flight, but probably not often. Anyone have examples?