Firefighter rescues pilot after plane crashes into top of tree

The aircraft was lodged in the top of a 60-foot tree

airplane lodged in top of tree
John Gregory’s aircraft crashed into the top of a tree on April 22 east of McCall, Idaho. Photo by Valley County Sheriff’s Office.

You know what they say about any landing you can walk away from……

That is what 79-year old John Gregory of McCall, Idaho did after his Piper Cub PA-18 crashed on top of a 60-foot white fir tree east of McCall Monday night. He had to be extracted from the plane and lowered to the ground by firefighters, but after his feet were firmly on top of snow at the base of the tree, he walked away uninjured.

Mr. Gregory had taken off at Challis and was intending to land at the McCall Airport but the plane lost power.

There are a number of facts about this story that are interesting other than the obvious… the plane somewhat intact at the top of the tree. (A piece of a prop and one wheel fell to the ground.)

The Valley County Sheriff’s Office said authorities were notified three ways about the accident at around 8:42 p.m.:

  1. A SPOT locater activation.
  2. US Air Force Rescue Command received notice of an unregistered EPIRB activation.
  3. Mr. Gregory called 911 on his cell phone, saying he had just crashed his plane and he was stuck in the trees in the air.

The Sheriff’s Office and McCall Fire and EMS responded into the snowy mountains on snowmobiles and a local resident brought Sno-Cat.  Two helicopters were dispatched, one from Two Bear Air and an air ambulance from Boise, but it was feared that the rotor wash would dislodge the plane, so it was all on the shoulders of the ground-based personnel.

It was dark so they worked with flashlights and lights from the Sno-Cat.

When I first heard about this accident, a plane and a victim stuck in the top of a tree, I thought that since it was near the McCall Smokejumper Base, a jumper was going to climb the tree and rescue the pilot, since they are trained in tree climbing to retrieve parachutes.

But, one of the McCall volunteer firefighters, Randy Acker, is an arborist and owner of Acker Tree Service. He offered to scale the tree, the Idaho Statesman reported. I checked, and Mr. Acker is not a smokejumper.

Below is an excerpt from an article in the Idaho Statesman. And keep in mind — it was well after dark.

[McCall Fire Captain Brandon] Swain said seven people on the ground watched the tree carefully as Acker climbed it, cutting limbs with a chainsaw as he ascended. He stopped cutting about 20 feet from the top.

“We were nervous,” Swain said. “The majority of the limbs at the top were helping support that plane.”

There was no way to know how hard the plane hit the tree or whether the tree was seriously compromised. But the plane didn’t budge while Acker worked to get the pilot out, Swain said.

Acker secured the plane to the tree with rope webbing. He then got the pilot into a safety harness so he could be lowered to the ground. Jordan Ockunzzi and Swain helped Gregory down through a process called belaying.

The Sheriff’s Office is not releasing the exact location of the incident, and is asking the public to avoid the area since a gust of wind could cause the aircraft to crash, again, this time to the ground.

airplane lodged in top of tree
John Gregory’s aircraft crashed into the top of a tree on April 22 east of McCall, Idaho. Photo by Valley County Sheriff’s Office.

NPS aircraft crashes in Alaska — pilot rescued

A Cessna 185 operated by the National Park Service crashed north of Nome, Alaska April 15 in a remote area within the Bering Land Bridge National Preserve on the Seward Peninsula. The Alaska Rescue Coordination Center received an emergency locator transmitter signal from the aircraft at about 9 a.m.

The Alaska Region Communications Center based in Denali National Park was monitoring the mission and when the pilot did not check in as scheduled, was able to use its automated flight following technology to relay accurate identification of the pilot as well as the exact location of the airplane to the Alaska Rescue Coordination Center.

The pilot, the sole occupant on the mission from Kotdzebue to Nome, was able to communicate with an overhead aircraft and reported that he had minor injuries. A U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service pilot from Nome attempted to overfly the area later in the morning, but was turned back due to poor weather conditions.

pavehawk
File photo. An Air Force HH-60G Pave Hawk prepares to demonstrate in-flight refueling from an HC-130J Super Hercules during the joint forces demonstration at the Arctic Thunder Open House, July 1, 2018 at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Valerie Halbert)

An HH-60 Pavehawk helicopter and a C-130 refueling tanker responded from Joint-Base Elmendorf-Richardson with pararescuemen but initially were unable to access the area due to weather — strong winds and blowing snow.

A ground-based Search and Rescue team in Shishmaref could not mobilize because of white-out conditions.

Later in the day the Pavehawk was able to land at the site. The crew extricated the pilot and flew him to Elmendorf and then to Providence Hospital in Anchorage, where he was treated and released.

According to Alaska Air National Guard Senior Master Sgt. Evan Budd, the downed pilot was located with adequate food and survival gear to wait out the storm despite his injuries.

Firefighter killed in Texas helicopter crash

(UPDATED at 2:16 p.m. MDT March 28, 2019)

 

The firefighter that died in the Texas helicopter crash on March 27 has been identified by the U.S. Forest Service as Daniel Laird, a Captain on the Tahoe Helitack crew in California. He leaves behind a wife and young daughter.

One source tells us that the other passenger was also a USFS firefighter who was sitting in the front seat when the aircraft went down, but reportedly walked away and was treated and released from a hospital.

Daniel_J_Laird
Daniel J. Laird. Tahoe National Forest photo.

The pilot was also transported to a hospital in stable condition, according to the information reported yesterday by Sergeant Erik Burse with the Texas Department of Public Safety.

Below is a letter from the USFS Regional Forester in California:

“You may have already heard from Secretary Perdue and Chief Christiansen that we lost one of our own, Daniel Laird, yesterday, in a helicopter accident while conducting a prescribed burn with our Region 8 partners on the Sam Houston National Forest in Texas. Daniel was 41 years old and leaves behind his wife Heather and daughter Evain.

“Daniel started as a seasonal firefighter on the Tahoe [National Forest] and worked his way up to Helitack Captain. His passion was in aviation, but he was also known for his ability to lead a strike team of engines or a task force of hand crews and heavy equipment. He was a true leader in every sense. He was dedicated to being an instructor and a believer in the apprentice program, where he helped grow people just like himself. Daniel was originally from Graeagle, CA, and committed his working life to the Forest Service. He was extremely knowledgeable about his craft and loved his job. He had an infectious smile, natural physical talent, and his greatest love of all was his family.

“Our Forest Service family is hurting over this tremendous loss. It is an emotional time and Daniel’s loss can impact even the strongest among us. We grieve with Daniel’s immediate family, friends, and community. Please keep them all in your thoughts and prayers. The Region is providing support to the Tahoe and all who need it as they digest this sad news. I will pass more details on arrangements once they become available.

“Please continue to look out for one another and take care of one another.”

Randy Moore
Regional Forester
USFS R5


(UPDATED at 9:07 a.m. CDT March 28, 2019)

The deceased firefighter was a U.S. Forest Service employee who, along with the other firefighter and the pilot, were on an aerial ignition mission. Their equipment was dropping plastic spheres that burst into flame after hitting the ground, helping to ignite the prescribed fire. No names have been released.


(Originally published at 7:17 p.m. CDT March 27, 2019)

One firefighter was killed in the crash of a helicopter today while working on a prescribed fire in the Sam Houston National Forest about 30 miles southeast of College Station, Texas south of Highway 149.

Sergeant Erik Burse with the Texas Department of Public Safety said the Eurocopter AS350 went down at about 2 p.m. with three people on board, a pilot and two firefighters. One of the firefighters was deceased on scene. The pilot and a second firefighter were transported to a hospital in stable condition after rescuers extracted them from the wreckage using jaws and air bags.

map helicopter crash sam houston national forest
Map showing heat in the Sam Houston National Forest detected by a satellite at 2:38 p.m. CDT March 27, 2019. There is a possibility the heat could have been produced by a prescribed fire.

Our sincere condolences go out to the family, friends, and coworkers of the firefighter, and we hope for a speedy recovery of the injured personnel.

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

Bell 412 lands in water after tail rotor strike while refilling water bucket

The tail rotor of a Bell 412 struck a tree while it was attempting to refill its water bucket February 26, 2019 in the northwest part of Spain. The firefighting helicopter (EC-MAQ) operated by Babcock settled upright in a couple of feet of water in the Narcea River in Belmonte de Miranda, Asturias (map).

Photos show damage to the tail rotor. There were no reported injuries.

Helicopter crashes into lake while fighting wildfire in Australia

The crew of three swam to shore

Christine 341 Air-Crane crash
File photo of Air-Crane 341, known as “Christine”. Photo taken in November, 2018 by Uniform Photography.

(UPDATED at 8:49 p.m. MT [USA] January 28, 2019)

9 News has an update on the crash of an Erickson Air-Crane in Victoria, Australia on January 28, 2019. Video shows the Air-Crane on its side with a portion of the tail boom and main landing gear protruding above the water. Also the white skimming tube is visible which can be lowered as the helicopter flies near the surface of a body of water, using the same principle to refill the tank as the Be-200, Fire Boss, and CL-215/415. Drafting or skimming with the Air-Crane takes 45 seconds. It is unlikely that the aircraft was skimming when the accident occurred due to the lack of sufficient space. The Air-Crane also has a snorkel or drafting hose that is more often used for refilling while hovering over water.

Below is an excerpt from an article at ABC News Australia that was updated Monday evening, US time:

Five similar Air-Cranes — in NSW, South Australia, Western Australia and Victoria — were grounded while the crash was investigated.

Kestrel Aviation managing director Ray Cronin, whose company manages the fleet, said the ground was a “precautionary measure” while the company interviewed the crew and determined a probable cause.

He said after an initial investigation, the company and authorities had agreed that the grounding of the Aircrane fleet would be lifted.

“The Aircranes will return to service almost immediately,” Mr Cronin said.

“The crews are with the aircraft ready to rejoin the fire fight in Victoria.”

He said while he did not want to pre-empt the outcome of the Australian Transport Safety Bureau’s (ATSB) investigation, he understood “the serviceability of the Aircrane” was good at the time of the crash.

Air-Crane crash Australia
Parts of the Air-Crane can be seen above the water in this screengrab from the 9 News video.
Air-Crane crash Australia helicopter
The Air-Crane crashed in a valley surrounded by rising terrain. Image from ABC Australia video. Arrow added by Fire Aviation.

(Originally published at 12:47 MT [USA] January 28, 2019)

A helicopter crashed into a lake while fighting a wildfire Monday in Victoria, Australia. The Erickson Air-Crane had a crew of three, two pilots and an engineer, while it was working on the Thomson Complex Catchment fires in Gippsland. The personnel are safe after swimming to shore. Ambulance Victoria will assess the crew members. Emergency Management Victoria said the helicopter was Air-Crane HT 341, known as “Christine”.

The aircraft was one of ten aircraft working on the fire. The site of the crash, in the Yarra Ranges National Park, is about 50km (31 miles) south of Benalla.

Emergency Management Commissioner Andrew Crisp said that he was grateful that the crew are safe.

The Flight Safety Foundation reports the helicopter is “damaged beyond repair”.

The two Air-Cranes under contract in Victoria can carry more than 2,500 gallons of water or retardant. The state also has 47 other aircraft on contract.

A total of six large fixed wing air tankers from North America have been working in Australia during their 2018-2019 summer.  Tankers with their primary base at Richmond, New South Wales include a RJ85, (Tanker 166); a  737 (T-137); a C-130Q (T-134); and another RJ85 (T-165). Based at Avalon in Victoria are a C-130Q (T-131); and an RJ85 (T-163).

The accident is being investigated by the Australian Transport Safety Bureau. The agency expects to complete their report during the third quarter of 2019.

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

A look at the crash rescue kit

On December 18 the National Wildfire Coordinating group published a 4-minute video that gives a brief overview to the contents of the Crash Rescue Kit. It can be ordered like any other fire equipment through the fire cache system, as NFES #1040. If you desire to purchase it, the cost is $724.75.

The video implies it would be appropriate to have the kit available at an incident helibase.

Helicopter crashes, starts fire, rescuers burned over

helicopter crash site
An overview of the crash site and the extraction point for the three victims. Photo from the report.

A report has been released for a helicopter crash in a very remote area of Nevada that started a fire, injured two passengers, and resulted in rescuers being burned over. It happened August 18, 2018 about 10 miles north of Battle Mountain.

One of the passengers called 911 on a cell phone at 1357:

We just got into a helicopter crash…three occupants, all of us are alive and managed to get out…started a big fire, fire is burning all around us right now…one of the guys hit his head pretty hard…you’re gonna have to get a helicopter, it’s the only way to get in here.

Adding to the complexity was the fact that several different agencies and organizations had various responsibilities: Lander County Dispatch, Battle Mountain Volunteer Fire Department, local EMS services, a medical helicopter, Elko Interagency Dispatch Center, and Central Nevada Interagency Dispatch Center.

As might be expected the complex communication chain between the victims and the actual emergency responders created some difficulties, including a delay in extracting the three personnel.

The Facilitated Learning Analysis does not speculate what caused the crash of the helicopter that was transporting two biologists on a chukar survey, but it started a fire, which was named Sheep Creek. The biologists and the pilot self-extracted, one of them with what appeared to be a serious head injury, and they all hiked up a steep slope to a flat bench where they awaited a helicopter. About two hours after the 911 call the three were evacuated from the scene by a firefighting helicopter that was on scene, and possibly also a medical helicopter. The report is not clear about this.

helicopter crash site
A closer view of the crash site. Photo from the report.

Meanwhile a volunteer fire department Type 4 engine that had responded in a search and rescue mode toward the crash site found that the condition of the road they were traveling on deteriorated from a 2-track road to a 4×4 trail, and finally ended. At that point the fire was closing in on their location. The rookie firefighter and the Fire Chief got out, and leaving their wildland fire personal protective gear in the truck, began to spray water around the vehicle.

From the report:

Within seconds, the fire was all around Pumper- 2. Both individuals were caught outside of the vehicle while trying to spray water. Neither had on their personal protective equipment (PPE) when the burnover occurred. The Chief stated, “We were in a rescue mission, so we had no PPE on.”

During the burnover, the firefighter jumped off the back of Pumper-2, started to run around the vehicle and then took refuge under Pumper-2. “I was burning and screaming and hunkered down underneath behind the rear tires.” After the burnover, the Chief yelled for the firefighter, whom he could not see anywhere. He eventually located the firefighter under Pumper-2.

After sustaining significant burns, both the Chief and firefighter got back into the vehicle, with the Chief driving, continuing down drainage. The fire was behind them as they continued driving through the black towards the bottom of the drainage. Pumper-2 drove through the bottom of the drainage over the rough terrain until getting stuck. Both individuals got out of the vehicle and proceeded to hike up the steep ridge until they got on top of the ridge to establish communications.

At 1646, Lander County Dispatch received a 911 call from the firefighter, who said he and the Chief had been burned. “We need help.” Dispatch was asking questions to establish a location, but the cell phone was breaking up. The firefighter said, “We might need a helicopter because we are on the ridge…in the black…wearing a red shirt and just uphill right of the engine.”

Suppression resources were actively engaged on the wildland fire during the burnover of the Pumper-2. The Incident Commander of the wildland fire was unaware that Pumper-2 was on the fire until well after the burnover occurred. The dispatch centers did not know the location of Pumper-2.

At 1745 the injured firefighters were located and extracted by the air medical and suppression helicopters to awaiting ground medical resources at Battle Mountain Airport. At about 1900, fixed-wing aircraft flew the injured firefighters to the University of Utah Burn Center in Salt Lake City, Utah.

The FLA points out a number of organizational and human issues that are worthy of consideration. One topic that was not thoroughly addressed in the report was the dispatchers and firefighting personnel at times did not know the exact location of the crash site or the victims, and were not aware that the engine was responding or it’s location following the injuries to the two firefighters.

Even when, eventually, the location of emergency responders will be able to be tracked on an incident, biologists and volunteer firefighters will probably be some of the last personnel to employ this capability on a routine basis.

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.