Fire Department helicopter crew responded to Kobe Bryant’s helicopter crash

I was at Los Angeles County FD’s Barton Heliport as the crew on Helicopter 12 geared-up and responded

LA County Fire Department helicopter Kobe Bryant crash
Los Angeles County Fire Department firefighter/paramedics gear up for rappelling after being dispatched to what turned out to be the crash of Kobe Bryant’s helicopter, January 26, 2020. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

Cool, moist air limited the visibility the morning of January 26 when I stopped by the Los Angeles County Fire Department Air Operations Barton Heliport in Pacoima, California. When I arrived at 9 a.m. to report on the helicopter program there was one small hole in the low clouds, trying to let a little direct sunlight reach the ground. About 45 minutes later I was in the flight crews’ ready room with five or six people. One of them was eating scrambled eggs from a bowl when the alert tones immediately got everyone’s attention. “Copter 12, that’s us”, said the flight crew member I was talking with. “Well sir, it was nice meeting you. There are others here who can answer your questions”, he said as he walked over to the bank of radios.

Most of the Barton facility is devoted to parking and maintaining helicopters, but also located there are county shops for welding, woodworking, plumbing, and heavy equipment. I drove past a huge D-9 dozer on the way to the hangar.

The LACFD has 10 helicopters — five Bell 412s and five Sikorsky Firehawks. They are all multi-mission helicopters, equipped for fighting fire, hoisting victims, inserting personnel, and can transport individuals injured in accidents.  The Bells are classified as Type 2 by the Incident Command System and can carry 360 gallons of water after most of the fuel has burned off. With a full load of fuel they usually can drop about 200 gallons of water on a vegetation fire.

The Firehawks, which are Blackhawks converted for firefighting, are Type 1 helicopters and can almost always haul about 1,000 gallons. The ships are flown by a single pilot. Steve Smith, a firefighter/paramedic, said the crew chiefs are fighter/paramedics and recently started attending a flight safety course that includes flight simulator training. One of the objectives of that training is that if the pilot becomes incapacitated they would be able to use the controls at the left seat to get the ship safely on the ground.

Back in the ready room, after the tones the dispatcher said, “West County, West County, potential plane crash”. Additional units were dispatched “since vegetation is involved”. A minute or two later the information was updated to a helicopter, not an airplane, crash.

A printer quickly spit out a small piece of paper that was given to the crew  as they left the room.

The location of the incident was about 16 miles southwest of Barton Heliport in the Calabasas area east of the 2018 Woolsey Fire that burned 97,000 acres from Simi Valley south to the Pacific Ocean at Malibu.

LA County Fire Department helicopter Kobe Bryant crash
Los Angeles County Fire Department firefighter/paramedics gear up for rappelling after being dispatched to what turned out to be the crash of Kobe Bryant’s helicopter, January 26, 2020. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

Not knowing exactly what kind of terrain or vegetation they would find, the three-person crew, a pilot and two firefighter/paramedics, prepared for the possibility of having to lower personnel by a hoist down to the site from the hovering helicopter. Two of the men stood next to their ship and put on the harnesses. After each had conducted a safety check of the other to ensure the complex harnesses were correctly configured, they climbed on board as the pilot started the two engines and soon were airborne heading southwest.

The three remaining men listened closely to the radio in the ready room. They all pulled out their cell phones and attempted to keep up with their colleagues using flight following apps, but as Copter 12 got closer to the coast in more complex terrain the flight tracking became inconsistent. They monitored a local television station hoping to find out more about the crash.

Realizing that the remaining personnel were going to be busy for a while, I figured my best option was to get out of their hair. When I left they had not yet learned that the other crew was going to the scene of a helicopter crash that took the lives of Kobe Bryant, one of his daughters, the pilot, and six other passengers.

May they all rest in peace.

I found out a couple of days later that when the helicopter arrived at the scene of the accident one of the firefighter/paramedics was lowered by hoist to the ground while the other operated the hoist. The firefighter on the ground sized up the scene and gave a report by radio to the Incident Commander.

Fire engines arrived to put out the small fire. The terrain and distance from the nearest road made it a challenge to get fire hose to the site so the crewman on the ground was hoisted back up to the helicopter and then the ship landed near some of the engines and obtained hose to haul back to the fire. Then a bundle of hose and a firefighter/paramedic were lowered by hoist to the ground. Soon thereafter plenty of other emergency services personnel were on scene so Helicopter 12 was released to return to Barton Heliport.

More information has become available about the C-130 crash in Australia

Investigators have recovered the cockpit voice recorder

C-130 crash site NSW
NSW police and a military aircraft near the site of the C-130 crash near Cooma, NSW. Photo: NSW Police.

Australian media outlets have published aerial photos of the site where Air Tanker 134, an EC-130Q, crashed in New South Wales January 23, 2020. In some respects the site looks similar to those taken after the 2012 crash of the Modular Airborne Firefighting System (MAFFS) C-130 aircraft. The sections of the aircraft that received the least damage were the tails.

The 2012 accident occurred on the White Draw Fire near Edgemont, South Dakota and resulted in four fatalities among the seven-person crew. Two crewmen in the rear of the aircraft were injured but survived. Those two were operating the pressurized Modular Airborne FireFighting System (MAFFS) in the cargo hold which enables a military C-130 to function as an air tanker, capable of dropping up to 3,000 gallons of fire retardant. On a C-130 with a conventional gravity-powered retardant delivery system, all three crewmen are in the cockpit.

I will not force anyone to look at the crash scene photos, but if you feel up to it you can find them at the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) here and here. Reuters also has decent coverage. Most of the photos were taken by a drone operated by the Army. They are using the aircraft to map the site.

The information that has come out so far indicates that the crash occurred following a retardant drop. The drop could have been planned, or the retardant might have been jettisoned if the aircraft was suddenly in a dangerous position.

Investigators with the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) have found the cockpit voice recorder in the tail of the plane and hope to analyze it by Sunday.

NSW police said they have recovered the bodies of the three crew members that were killed, Ian H. McBeth, Captain, Paul Clyde Hudson, First Officer, and Rick A. DeMorgan Jr., Flight Engineer. They will be repatriated to the United States as soon as possible.

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

An overview of the C-130 incident in Australia

From L-R, First Officer Paul Clyde Hudson, Captain Ian H. McBeth, Flight Engineer Rick A. DeMorgan Jr. Coulson Aviation photo.

A video has been posted on YouTube by “blancolirio”, who frequently makes aviation-related videos. In the 15-minute piece he analyzes from afar the January 23, 2020 crash of Air Tanker 134, the Coulson Aviation EC-130Q in which Paul Hudson, Ian McBeth, and Rick DeMorgan Jr. were killed while working on a bushfire in New South Wales, Australia.

Keep in mind it will be months before the investigators release a report and the cause of the crash has not been determined.

This incident and the loss of these three men has had a severe impact on the small air tanker community.

Coulson has two C-130 air tankers (the other is T-131). The loss of T-134 drops that number to one. They also operate several Type 1 helicopters, a recently converted Boeing 737, and have four other 737s and five more C-130s with plans to convert them into air tankers in the future.

Rest In Peace

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

Air tanker crash in Australia kills three crew members

It was working on a fire in New South Wales

Rest In Peace

Tanker 134
Tanker 134 as it started a new contract with CAL FIRE. Coulson photo, April 11, 2019.

Updated at 6:01 a.m. PST January 23, 2020 (US time)

A C-130Q air tanker (N134CG) crashed in southern New South Wales Thursday January 23 (Australia time). All three members of the crew perished.

Coulson Aviation released a statement saying their aircraft, Tanker 134, had departed from Richmond NSW on a firebombing mission and went down in the Snowy Monaro area. There were three fatalities.

(UPDATE: the three men have been identified)

Tanker 134 had been working on a contract in Australia since August, 2019.

Tanker 134 (N134CG)
The last flight path of Tanker 134 (N134CG) recorded by FlightAware, January 23, 2020 U.S. local time.

The Australian Transport Safety Bureau will be investigating the incident which they said occurred at Peak View near Cooma, NSW. The agency is expected to release a preliminary report within 30 days.

map crash tanker 134
The marker shows the location of Tanker 134 that was last recorded on FlightAware.
location Tanker 134 crash
This Google Earth 3-D map shows the general location of Tanker 134 last recorded by FlightAware. The map is looking north.

New South Wales Rural Fire Service Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons said Coulson has grounded its entire fleet of air tankers out of respect for those who died. “Our hearts are with all those that are suffering in what is the loss of three remarkable, well-respected crew that have invested so many decades of their life into firefighting,” he said.

Cameron Price of 7NEWS Sydney reported on the incident:

Wreckage of missing RFS C-130 located by search crews. Reports only tail section intact. Aircraft has broken up on impact. Crews reporting difficult terrain and “terrible visibility”.

The Premier of New South Wales said out of respect for the crew flags would fly at half mast in the state, and:

Heartbreaking & devastating news that three US residents who were crew members operating a LAT in the Snowy Mountains region have lost their lives. Our thoughts & heartfelt condolences are with their families & the tight knit firefighting community.

The U.S. Ambassador to Australia, Arthur B. Culvahuse Jr. said:

I am deeply saddened by the tragic news we received today. The brave Americans who died near Snowy Monaro died helping Australia in its time of need. The families and friends of those who we have lost are in our thoughts and prayers. Thank you Australia for your sympathy and solidarity.

From the Canadian Interagency Fire Centre:

@CIFFC and its member agencies are deeply saddened by this tragic event. We send our condolences to our firefighting colleagues at #CoulsonAviation & @NSWRFS

Earlier the New South Wales Rural Fire Service reported that contact had been lost with a large air tanker that was working in the southern part of the state in the Snowy Monaro area.

@aus_forum
Posted at 7:22 PST January 22, 2019 (US time)

Our sincere condolences go out to the families, friends, and coworkers of the crew.

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

Helicopter ditches in lake while fighting bushfire in Australia

The pilot swam to shore and was taken to a hospital

UH-1H helicopter submerged Ben Boyd Reservoir
A UH-1H helicopter partially submerged in Ben Boyd Reservoir in the Ben Boyd National Park at Edrom, New South Wales. Photo by Westpac Life Saver Rescue Helicopter Service.

Thursday afternoon January 9 at about 4 p.m. local time a helicopter under contract with the New South Wales Rural Fire Service in Australia ditched into a lake on the far south coast of NSW. After impacting the water the UH-1H helicopter submerged but the pilot was able to self-extricate and swim to shore. The pilot was the only person on board.

The Canberrra Times reported that the 47-year old pilot was treated at the scene by paramedics for shoulder, back, and ankle injuries before being taken to the South East Regional Hospital.

The helicopter was refilling with water at Ben Boyd Reservoir in the Ben Boyd National Park at Edrom, in the Bega Valley Shire.

The aircraft had been moved from the Clyde Mountain Fire to work on the Border Fire in Eden which has crossed from NSW into Victoria. It merged with another fire creating a massive 150,000 hectare (370,000 acres).

Firefighting helicopter goes down in Queensland, Australia

Helicopter Down crash Queensland Australia
Photo by 9News

A helicopter that was assisting firefighters on a bushfire in Queensland, Australia had a hard landing near Pechey north of Toowoomba. The pilot, believed to be in his 70s, was injured and flown to a hospital by another helicopter.

9News reported that the incident occurred as the pilot attempted to perform an emergency landing in strong winds.

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

Three firefighting helicopters have crashed in Portugal recently, killing 2 pilots

In the last 16 days two pilots have been killed in three helicopter crashes in Portugal while fighting wildfires.

The most recent fatality occurred today, September 5, involving a helicopter owned by Afocelca, a private firefighting company working for various Portuguese pulp producers. There are media reports that the aircraft crashed after hitting power lines, but that can’t be confirmed. The helicopter went down near Valongo, about 20 kilometers (12 miles) from Porto.

Reuters reported that yesterday, September 4, another helicopter crashed in Portugal while assisting wildland firefighters. Thankfully the pilot only had minor injuries.

fires map Portugal
The red dots represent heat detected in Portugal by a NASA satellite September 5, 2019.

In a third incident in Portugal, a pilot died August 20 in a helicopter crash.

From Safe Communities Portugal:

A helicopter fighting a fire in Castro Daire, Viseu, fell shortly before 13:00 hrs today Sunday 20th August, killing the pilot, Américo Sousa, aged 51 years.

The helicopter crashed into high-voltage cables, crashed and burned, and the pilot was trapped in the helicopter, according to a source at the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MAI).

The helicopter had just dropped off a GNR GIPS team at a fire at Cabril, Castro Daire.

Américo Sousa was an experienced pilot. For several years, he had been flying helicopters on several missions, but especially for rescue and firefighting
The helicopter was based at the Air Media Center in Armamar, Viseu. The Eurocopter AS350 Ecureuil belonging to Everjets is a single-pilot single-pilot helicopter with a maximum capacity of 5 people.

Castro Daire’s mayor, Fernando Carneiro, and fire chief commander Paulo Almeida confirmed the helicopter’s fall.

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

Lockheed drone crashes while mapping fires in New Mexico

Lockheed XE Stalker
Lockheed XE Stalker on a catapult. Lockheed image.

A Lockheed Stalker XE Unmanned Aerial System aircraft crashed as it was attempting to land after completing a mission to detect heat and map the perimeters of wildfires in southwest New Mexico.

It occurred August 7, 2019 about 26 miles west-northwest of Truth or Consequences, New Mexico.

The cause, according to a brief preliminary report, was an incorrect altitude of the landing area obtained from “a new GPS out of the box.”

Below is an excerpt from the report about the accident:

“The Type 2 UAS was ordered for a number of fires in and around the XXX Wilderness on the XXX of the XXX National Forest. The mission was to detect any heat remaining on the fires, map their perimeters, and provide imagery to local fire managers. The day before the mishap, a flight was conducted on a fire that went smoothly. On the second day, a similar mission was planned over a different fire. A thorough safety and operational briefing took place prior to launch with all members of the mission. The only difference in this mission and the previous day’s was the location of the fire and the placement of the launch area. The UAS flew over the fire for just over an hour collecting data before the Pilot in Charge (PIC) began the procedures for landing.

“On final and while flying on an automated flight plan, the UAS aggressively changed its angle of attack and pitched down. The UAS impacted the ground at this angle one-quarter of a mile from the intended landing zone. The fuselage, leading edges of the wings, and tail boom all sustained significant damage leading to the aircraft being deemed not airworthy. The angle of attack change is normal for this aircraft on approach to its landing zone.

“The crash was due to an incorrect input into the Ground Control Station (GCS) of the landing zone elevation. This elevation was gained from a new GPS out of the box. The input into the GCS was 5915 and the actual elevation of the landing zone is 6280. This incorrect input made the aircraft believe that it was over 300 feet higher and continue with this angle of attack prior to leveling off for landing.”

The Lockheed XE was first introduced in 2006. The latest models can fly up to eight hours with a propane fuel cell or up to four hours with a battery option at a cruise speed of 35 mph. It can be launched with a bungee cord, a catapult, or by using a recently developed optional vertical takeoff and landing kit.

In 2015 Lockheed demonstrated how the Stalker XE can provide data and a precise geolocation to an unmanned K-MAX cargo helicopter, which conducted water drops to slow the spread of a fire.