Reports released about the helicopter that crashed on the Polles Fire in Arizona

The pilot was killed in the July 7, 2020 accident west of Payson

Polles Fire vicinity map
Polles Fire vicinity map

On July 7, 2020 a UH-1H helicopter crashed while transporting supplies to firefighters who were spiked out (camping) while working on the Polles Fire about 10 miles west of Payson, Arizona. The only person on board, pilot Bryan Jeffery “BJ” Boatman, 37 of Litchfield Park, Arizona was killed. We send our sincere condolences to the family and friends of Mr. Boatman, and to the forestry technicians who were at the fire.

Bryan Jeffery “BJ” Boatman
Bryan Jeffery “BJ” Boatman

BJ was born on June 8, 1983 in Provo, Utah. He was a third-generation pilot and worked alongside his parents to build their company, Airwest Helicopters of Glendale, Arizona.

3-D map of the Polles Fire from data at 10:36 p.m. July 7, 2020
3-D map of the Polles Fire from data at 10:36 p.m. July 7, 2020; looking north.

The helicopter, N623PB, serial number 64-13689, was manufactured in 1964. It is a UH-1H registered to Aero Leasing in Glendale, Arizona, the same city where Air West Helicopters is located.

Polles Fire - Payson helicopter crash fatality
Airwest Helicopters photo, N623PB.

Two reports have been released, a brief preliminary report by the National Transportation Safety Board, and a 23-page facilitated learning analysis (FLA) commissioned by the U.S. Forest Service.

The FLA is solely devoted to analyzing the response to the accident — the Incident Within an Incident and the actions taken in the following days. It does not address what caused the helicopter to crash. The report found very little to criticize and praised most of the actions that were taken. It goes into quite a bit of detail about how the fire’s Incident Management Team handled the emergency response during the first few hours, as well as organizing over the next several days to care for BJ’s family and the forestry technicians that were involved.

Anyone who could in the future find themselves in a similar unfortunate situation would benefit from reading the FLA. Firefighting is dangerous, and others will have to walk the same path.

During a 49-day period that began July 7, 2020 there were six crashes of firefighting aircraft — three helicopters and three air tankers. In addition, three members of the crew of a C-130 from the U.S. died when their air tanker crashed January 23, 2020 while fighting a bushfire in New South Wales, Australia.

Below is the text from the narrative portion of the three-page NTSB report. The complete report which will analyze the cause, might be released within the next year.


“On July 7, 2020, about 1213 mountain standard time, a Bell/Garlick UH-1H helicopter, N623PB, was destroyed when it was involved in an accident near Payson, Arizona. The pilot was fatally injured. The helicopter was operated as a Title 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 133 external load flight.

Illustration from the NTSB report
Figure 1: Depiction of helicopter flight path based on witness statements. From the NTSB preliminary report.

“The helicopter was owned by Airwest Helicopters LLC and operated by the United States Forest Service at the time of the accident. According to witnesses, the helicopter was transporting supplies using a long line for a hotshot firefighting crew that were repositioning on the ground. The pilot transported three loads to the new destination uneventfully prior to the accident and had been using an indirect route to the north to avoid a fire area (Figure 1). While transporting the fourth load, witnesses observed the helicopter begin to fly erratically while en route to its destination. During this time, a witness stated that he observed the helicopter enter a high nose-up pitch attitude and the external payload began to swing. The helicopter then displayed irregular movements for several seconds before the external payload settled and the helicopter appeared to stabilize. However, after about 3 seconds, multiple witnesses observed the helicopter wobble and bank erratically before it entered a steep nose up attitude and then descended rapidly. The witnesses did not observe the helicopter on fire during the accident flight, nor did the pilot report any anomalies over the helicopter crew’s common air-to-ground radio frequency or any other assigned frequencies for the fire.

“The helicopter wreckage came to rest about 0.5 nm north of its drop off destination, oriented on a heading of 074° magnetic and was mostly consumed by postcrash fire. All major structural components of the helicopter were accounted for at the accident site. The helicopter’s external payload was found 123 ft southeast of the main wreckage.

“The wreckage was retained for further examination.”

Preliminary report released for fatal SEAT crash in Idaho

The pilot was killed September 22, 2020 southeast of Emmett, Idaho

October 16, 2020   |   3:56 p.m. MDT

NTSB preliminary report T-857
Image from the NTSB preliminary report on the September 22, 2020 crash of a SEAT in Idaho.

The National Transportation Safety Board has released a preliminary report on the fatal crash of a single engine air tanker (SEAT) in Idaho.

The Air Tractor AT-802A crashed September 22, 2020 while working on the Schill Fire, approximately 2 miles southeast of Emmett.

The pilot, Ricky Fulton, perished. The aircraft, Tanker 857, was owned by Aero S.E.A.T. Incorporated and was on an on-call (CWN) contract with the Bureau of Land Management. The aircraft was first registered July 10, 2020, FAA registration number N836MM.

Typically it takes 8 to 16 months for the NTSB to issue their final, complete report with an analysis of the causes of a crash.

This was the sixth firefighting pilot and the third SEAT pilot to be killed in the United States this year. In addition, three members of the crew of a C-130 from the U.S. died when their air tanker crashed January 23, 2020 while fighting a bushfire in New South Wales, Australia. Also, one person was killed August 8 in the crash of a CL-215  based in Portugal while battling a fire in Spain.

Below is the complete text from the narrative section of the report about the September 22 crash.


On September 22, 2020, about 1830 mountain daylight time, an Air Tractor AT-802A, N836MM, was substantially damaged when it was involved in an accident near Emmett, Idaho. The pilot was fatally injured. The airplane was operated as a Title 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91 aerial firefighting flight.

Witness conducting firefighting operations, adjacent the accident site, reported that the accident airplane, a single engine air tanker (SEAT), descended and made an approach similar to the previous SEATs that were dropping fire retardant. The witnesses said the airplane passed over the top of the ridge and descended into the valley, however, the pilot did not drop the fire retardant as previous SEATs did. The witnesses stated he heard a brief application of engine power as the airplane began to ascend over rising terrain at the pilot’s 12’oclock position. The airplane subsequently impacted rising terrain near the peak of the ridgeline.

A video provided by a witness captured the accident sequence. The recording showed the airplane descend over an intermediate ridgeline and into a valley (see figure 1). About 3 seconds later, the airplane momentarily returned to level flight before it pitched to a nose-high attitude. The airplane subsequently impacted rising terrain approximately 80 feet below the ridgeline.

Examination of the accident site by a Federal Aviation Administration inspector revealed that the airplane impacted rising terrain. The wreckage debris path continued from the initial impact point over the top of a ridgeline, and extended into a small ravine. The airplane came to rest approximately 100 yards from the initial impact pointe on a heading of 040 degrees. All major structural components of the airplane were located throughout the wreckage debris path. The wreckage was recovered for further examination.

(end of report)


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

Company issues statement about the drop gate on the air tanker that crashed in Idaho

The company that manufactures the gate that allows the retardant to be dropped from the Single Engine Air Tanker that crashed in Idaho September 22, 2020 said the FAA and the National Transportation Safety Board to their knowledge have not released preliminary findings regarding the cause of the crash.

Ricky Fulton was killed while flying the Air Tractor 802A when it crashed while attempting to drop retardant on a wildfire southeast of Emmett, Idaho.

On September 24, 2020 KWTV – NEWS9 reported that Mr. Fulton’s family said, “The preliminary finding from the FAA is saying that the dump gate malfunctioned and didn’t open to dump the fire retardant, so he wasn’t able to pull up over the ridge,”

Victor Trotter, President/CTO of Trotter Controls that made the gate, said, “Neither FAA or the NTSB has made any preliminary statements or findings regarding the cause or possible causes of the crash. We have not been notified that a gate malfunction contributed to the incident. …Air Tractor and our company is fully cooperating with the NTSB.  Documentation related to the FAA approved documents including the operation instructions (AFM), ICA (maintenance instructions), and Installation Instructions have been forwarded to the NTSB.”

The Single Engine Air Tanker that crashed was manufactured this year and was registered for the first time July 10, 2020. It was an Air Tractor 802A, N836MM, SN 802A-0836, owned by Aero S.E.A.T. Inc. of Sterling, Colorado, and was working on a call when needed contract with the Department of the Interior.

The SEAT that crashed Sept. 22 in Idaho was first registered two months ago

Ricky Fulton
Ricky Fulton

The Single Engine Air Tanker that crashed in Idaho September 22 was manufactured this year and was registered for the first time July 10, 2020. The aircraft was an Air Tractor 802A, N836MM, SN 802A-0836, owned by Aero S.E.A.T. Inc. of Sterling, Colorado. It was working on a call when needed contract with the Department of the Interior.

The pilot, Ricky Fulton, died in the accident.

The aircraft took off from Ontario, just across the Oregon border, at 6:07 p.m. MDT and was over the fire southeast of Emmett, Idaho 30 minutes later, according to FlightRadar24. It circled the fire about four times before it could no longer be detected.

SEAT flight from Ontario, ID to Schill Fire. N836MM
SEAT flight from Ontario, ID to Schill Fire. N836MM.

The family of Mr. Fulton told KWTV – NEWS 9 there was a malfunction related to the crash:

“The preliminary finding from the FAA is saying that the dump gate malfunctioned and didn’t open to dump the fire retardant, so he wasn’t able to pull up over the ridge,” family said.

It will be many months, at least, before an official report on the cause of the crash is released by the National Transportation Safety Board, so that information reportedly from the FAA should be considered preliminary at best.

NTSB SEAT crash

(Update September 28, 2020: the company that manufactures the gate that allows the retardant to be dropped from the Single Engine Air Tanker issued a statement about the crash.)

The Air Tractor 802A can hold up to 820 gallons of fire retardant weighing approximately 7,380 pounds. If any air tanker pilot is depending on the release of retardant to make it possible to clear terrain while exiting the drop area, a malfunction preventing that release would affect the aircraft’s ability to climb, possibly resulting in impact with terrain.

Our sincere condolences go out to the pilot’s family, friends, and co-workers.

Interim report released for fatal air tanker crash in Australia

All three crewmembers were killed in New South Wales, January 23, 2020

Flight path B134 air tanker crash

The Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) has released an interim report about the January 23, 2020 crash of a C-130, Air Tanker 134, that killed the three crewmembers on board. This follows the preliminary report the agency issued in February, 2020. The aircraft was known as Bomber 134 (B134) in Australia.

“The interim report does not contain findings nor identify safety issues, which will be contained in the final report. However, it does detail the extensive evidence gathered to date, which has helped ATSB investigators develop a detailed picture of this tragic accident’s sequence of events,” said ATSB Chief Commissioner Greg Hood.

Tanker 134 at Medford, Oregon
Tanker 134 (B134) at Medford, Oregon July 27, 2019. Photo by Tim Crippin.

It was very windy on January 23, with a forecast for the possibility of mountain waves. Before the incident a birddog, similar to a lead plane, and  Bomber 137 (B137), formerly Tanker 138, a Boeing 737 that Coulson sold to New South Wales, was tasked to drop on a fire in the Adaminaby area. Based on the weather the birddog pilot declined the assignment. After B137 made a drop on the fire, the crew reported having experienced uncommanded aircraft rolls up to 45° angle of bank (due to wind) and a windshear warning from the aircraft on‑board systems.

After completing the drop, the B137 crew sent a text message to the birddog pilot indicating that the conditions were “horrible down there. Don’t send anybody and we’re not going back.” They also reported to the Cooma FCC that the conditions were unsuitable for firebombing operations. During B137’s return flight to Richmond, the Richmond air base manager requested that they reload the aircraft in Canberra and return to Adaminaby. The Pilot in Command (PIC) replied that they would not be returning to Adaminaby due to the weather conditions.

B134 was dispatched to the fire at Adaminaby. While they were in route, the PIC of B137 called to inform them of the actual conditions, and that B137 would not be returning to Adaminaby.

After arriving at Adaminaby the PIC of B134 contacted the air operations officer at the Cooma FCC by radio and advised them that it was too smoky and windy to complete a retardant drop at that location. The Cooma air operations officer then provided the crew with the location of the Good Good Fire, about 58 km to the east of Adaminaby, with the objective of conducting structure and property protection near Peak View. Again, there was no birddog operating with the air tanker.

B134 flight path air tanker crash
Flight path overview (in white), including the times and locations of where the crew of B134 was in communication with others. From the report.

Analysis of a witness video confirmed that the aircraft initially established a positive rate of climb and was banking to the left following the retardant drop, the report details. Continue reading “Interim report released for fatal air tanker crash in Australia”

Pilot killed in Idaho air tanker crash

Sunset Idaho
BLM

Updated September 23, 2020  |  3:33 p.m. MDT

The Bureau of Land Management has provided more information about the crash of a single engine air tanker:

“On Tuesday, Sept. 22, 2020, at approximately 7 p.m. MDT, a Single Engine Air Tanker with one pilot on board was involved in a fatal accident during initial attack operations on the Schill Fire, located approximately 2 miles southeast of Emmett.

“The pilot, Ricky Fulton, perished. The aircraft, T-857, was owned by Aero S.E.A.T. Incorporated and was on an on-call contract with BLM Fire and Aviation at the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise. Firefighters on the scene rendered medical aid to the pilot and called for Life Flight, but the pilot did not survive his injuries.

“The 30-acre Schill Fire started at approximately 4:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 22 in grass and brush in steep terrain. It was contained at approximately 10 p.m. on Tuesday. The cause of the Schill Fire is under investigation.”


Originally published September 23, 2020  |  8:58 a.m. MDT

The Bureau of Land Management announced that the pilot of a single engine air tanker (SEAT) was killed Tuesday evening September 22 while working on a wildfire near Emmett, Idaho. The agency said more information will be released following family notifications.

KTVB reported the accident occurred near Pearl Road about two miles southeast of Emmett. The fire started around 4:30 p.m. and grew to 25 acres as two SEATs and one helicopter assisted firefighters on the ground. According to the Gem County Sheriff’s Office, the air tanker was dropping retardant when it went down.

This is the sixth firefighting pilot and the third SEAT pilot to be killed in the United States this year. In addition, three members of the crew of a C-130 from the U.S. died when their air tanker crashed January 23, 2020 while fighting a bushfire in New South Wales, Australia.

Our sincere condolences go out to the pilot’s family, friends, and co-workers.

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

Summarizing the aerial firefighter line of duty deaths during a recent 49-day period

May they rest in peace

Rest in peace

If you are like me it seems like there have been a lot of deaths of firefighting pilots recently (there have been) and maybe it is getting difficult to keep track. I feel bad if for a moment I can’t remember all six men. So to help me and anyone else that can benefit from having an (awful) list to refer to, here is a brief summary, with links to articles that have more details.

During the 49-day period that began July 7 there were six crashes of firefighting aircraft — three helicopters and three air tankers. In chronological order, they are:

July 7
Bryan Jeffery Boatman, 37, was approaching a helispot delivering supplies by long line to firefighters in a remote area on the Polles Fire in central Arizona. The UH-1H was operated by Airwest Helicopters out of Glendale, Arizona. The aircraft was under an exclusive use contract with the USFS.

July 30
Two single engine air tankers (SEATs) crashed after a mid-air collision while working the Bishop Fire in southeast Nevada. The pilots were David Blake Haynes and Scott Thomas. Both Air Tractor AT-802A aircraft were operated by M&M Air Services out of Beaumont, Texas on a BLM contract.

August 8
A Portuguese water-scooping air tanker, a CL-215, crashed in Spain August 8 while battling a wildfire that started near Lindoso, Portugal and burned across the international border. The pilot, Jorge Jardim, 65, was killed and the Spanish co-pilot was seriously injured. The scooper was operated by the Portuguese branch of the international company Babcock.

August 19
Mike Fournier, 52, was killed in the crash of a Bell UH-1H helicopter while on a water dropping mission on the Hills Fire, approximately 9 miles south of the City of Coalinga. It was operated by Guardian Helicopters out of Van Nuys, California on a CAL FIRE contract.

August 24
Tom Duffy, 40, died in a helicopter crash during a water bucket mission on the White River Fire in Oregon. The K-MAX was operated by Central Copters of Bozeman, Montana on a Call When Needed contract with the U.S. Forest Service.


As a former firefighter I don’t view all firefighters as heroes, of course, but we should honor these men for their service, and pray that their families can find some sort of peace knowing that they were on a good, honorable mission in life, helping others and doing things that few people can.

Pilot killed in helicopter accident while battling Oregon fire

August 25, 2020 | 4:07 a.m. PDT

White River Fire August 24, 2020 Oregon helicopter accident
White River Fire August 24, 2020

The pilot of a helicopter was killed August 24 while assisting firefighters on the White River Fire in Oregon. According to the U.S. Forest Service the K-MAX helicopter was dropping water in rough terrain when the accident occurred.

Wasco County Sheriff’s Office and Forest Service air and ground resources responded immediately to the site. There will be an investigation into the accident, and the National Transportation Safety Board and the Federal Aviation Administration have been notified. The firefighter has not yet been identified.

The White River Fire has burned 1,102 acres of timber and light logging slash 11 miles southeast of Mt. Hood since it started from a lightning strike August 17. It is being suppressed by 304 personnel and a Type 2 incident management team led by Incident Commander Brian Goff.

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

White River Fire August pilot helicopter killed crash accident
White River Fire August 18, 2020. InciWeb.

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