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.

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.
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10 years ago this month pilot Gert Marais was killed while fighting a fire at Fort Carson

Fort Carson reports 20 training related vegetation fires in last 12 months

(This article was first published on Wildfire Today)

A spokesperson for Fort Carson, a U.S. Army base south of Colorado Springs, admits that 20 fires in the last 12 months have been a result of training activities on the base, according to KOAA. Below is an excerpt from their report:

On March 16, a fire caused by live ammunition training on a Fort Carson artillery range burned nearly 3,000 acres off Mountain Post property, destroying two homes, numerous outbuildings, and dozens of vehicles.  Sunday, a wildfire caused by shooting on the Cheyenne Mountain Shooting Complex public shooting range burned more than 2,000 acres and forced the total closure of a roughly 10-mile stretch of I-25 for more than an hour.

Gert MaraisLocal residents and elected officials are wondering if there is anything the base can do to minimize the number of fires started by training, such as reducing dangerous activities during periods of elevated fire danger.

Ten years ago this month the pilot of a single engine air tanker was killed while helping firefighters on the ground contain a fire that started on Training Area 25 at Fort Carson. Wildfire Today wrote about the report released by the National Transportation Safety Board, which indicates there were very strong winds that day when Gert Marais died:

At the time of the crash, a U.S. Forest Service person on the ground who was directing the SEAT estimated that at the time of the crash the wind was out of the southwest at 30-40 knots. Winds at the Fort Carson airfield, 5 miles from the crash site, were between 20 and 40 knots from 1300 to the time of the accident at 1815.

Strong winds like occured on April 15, 2008 often indicate high wildfire danger if the relative humidity is low and the vegetation is dry.

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Bean.
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Utah man killed during helicopter mulch operation at Brian Head Fire

(This article was first published on WildfireToday.com, October 8, 2017.)

A man was killed Saturday October 7 during Burned Area Emergency Response (BAER) operations on the Brian Head Fire in southwest Utah. The 58-year old crew member on the ground from Alpine, Utah was giving directions to a helicopter dropping straw mulch when he was struck on the head. The pilot saw the injured man and contacted others who called 911.

Brian Head Marshall Jeff Morgan was flown to the remote site off State Route 143 about 1:45 p.m. and determined that the man had died.

Brian Head Fire map
Map showing planned BAER treatments on the Brian Head Fire.

A statement from the Iron County Sheriff’s Office read:

It was determined he likely died as a result of blunt force trauma from falling debris during the airdrop.

It was not clear from the statement if the man was hit by straw mulch or debris from a nearby tree as the straw fell.

The identity of the person killed has not been released.

Since an aircraft was involved in the fatality the National Transportation Safety Board will be investigating the accident.

Map Brian Head Fire Utah
Map of the Brian Head Fire in southwest Utah. The red line was the perimeter at 2:30 a.m. MDT June 29, 2017. The white line was the perimeter 24 hours earlier.

The Brian Head Fire burned over 63,000 acres in late June.  On August 25 BAER teams began dropping 3,200 tons of wheat straw from helicopter nets to cover the soil surface. The additional ground cover increases the germination of seeds dropped earlier and helps absorb raindrop impact lessening water runoff potential.

BAER treatments Brian Head Fire
File photo of a BAER team member on the Brian Head Fire, July 8, 2017. BAER team photo.

Our sincere condolences go out to the family, friends, and coworkers.
Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Charlie.
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Helicopter pilot killed while fighting wildfire in Portugal

The pilot of a Eurocopter AS 350B3 was killed August 20 while on a water dropping mission on a wildfire near Cabdril, Castro Daire, Portugal.

According to an unofficial report at Aviation Safety Net, the pilot had made two drops before hitting high voltage wires and crashed. The pilot, trapped inside the wreckage, died at the scene.

The helicopter belonged to Everjets, a private company in Portugal. The pilot had extensive flying experience and had been fighting fires from the air since 2013.

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

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Kevin.
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Empty water bucket contributed to New Zealand helicopter crash

New Zealand’s Transport Accident Investigation Commission (TAIC) has determined that an empty water bucket contributed to the cause of a fatal helicopter crash on February 14, 2017.

David Steven Askin was piloting a helicopter for Way To go Heliservices working on a wildfire near Christchurch when it went down in the Port Hills.

Steve Askin
Steve Askin. Way To Go Heliservices photo.

The TAIC determined that a cable from the water bucket struck the tail of the Eurocopter AS350-BA.

The TAIC explained:

In the early afternoon, one of the helicopters, a Eurocopter AS350 ‘Squirrel’, registered ZK-HKW, crashed while the pilot was returning to the dipping pond to refill the firefighting ‘monsoon’ bucket. The helicopter was destroyed and the pilot was killed. Evidence shows that the likely cause of the crash was the empty monsoon bucket swung back into the tail rotor, damaging the tail rotor and causing the loss of the vertical stabiliser from the tail boom. After the loss of the vertical stabiliser, the helicopter gradually rolled to the right and descended until it struck the ground.

The TAIC’s investigation was aided by video from a camera mounted on the aircraft which showed the bucket swinging up toward the tail as the helicopter was enroute to a dip site.

Below is an excerpt from the Stuff website:

An abbreviated mayday call was heard by several pilots about 2.05pm, but it was not clear which radio frequency the call was made on.

The air attack supervisor asked for a role call of all aircraft involved. Askin did not respond.

After a brief search, another pilot found the wreckage of Askin’s helicopter on a steep slope near the head of a gully east of Sugarloaf.

According to TAIC’s report, the helicopter had struck a steep, tussock-covered slope. Main rotor strikes on the slope indicated the helicopter had tumbled further down the slope.

TAIC recommended several solutions, including using heavy ballast slings, and having someone monitor the operation from the ground.

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Chad.
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Fire monitoring helicopter crashes in Russia, reportedly killing three

A helicopter used for monitoring wildfires crashed May 4 in the Russian republic of Bashkortostan, according to TASS which received information from regional emergency services. Three people were on board when it went down 30 kilometers south of the community of Inzer in the Beloretsk district. The reports are that there were no survivors.

Below is an excerpt from TASS:

The helicopter belonged to the Lightair company. The news it went missing came at 14:20 Moscow time. The helicopter had left Bashkortostan’s capital Ufa for Beloretsk. The distress signal from its emergency beacon was picked up by a satellite rescue system. The local office of the Investigative Committee has launched a probe.

Our sincere condolences go out to the family, friends, and coworkers.

Inquest finds inadequate inspection contributed to fatal air tanker crash

A coroner’s inquest found that an inadequate inspection contributed to the crash of an air tanker in New South Wales, Australia.

Dromader M-18 air tanker
File photo of Dromader M-18. Photo by Ted Quackenbush.

David Black, 43, died when his M18 Dromader single engine air tanker crashed while fighting a fire at Wirritin in Budawang National Park, 40 kilometers west of Ulladulla, October 24, 2013 when a wing snapped off the aircraft as it was approaching the fire. The crash started another bushfire which, along with high winds, hampered efforts to reach the pilot.

Below is an excerpt from an article at 9news:

[The aircraft] was tested and inspected just over two months earlier by two companies, Aviation NDT and Beal Aircraft Maintenance, but [Deputy State Coroner Derek] Lee said the work was inadequately done.

He wrote in his findings that testing by Aviation NDT used an unauthorised method and did not comply with the mandatory requirements of the Civil Aviation Safety Authority.

Further, the plane’s wings were not removed during a visual inspection by Beal Aircraft Maintenance, meaning that corrosion and cracking on one of the left wing’s attachment lugs was not detected.

By the time Mr Black crashed in October, the Australian Transport Safety Bureau found that cracking on the inner surface of the lug had reached a critical length of 10.4 millimetres and at least 32 secondary micro cracks were also identified.

The engineer behind the visual inspection, Donald Beal, told the inquest the manufacturer’s service bulletin did not mandate removal of the wings, so he didn’t see any need to remove them.

Mr Beal also said there was ambiguity about what visual inspections actually involved, Mr Lee recalled in his findings.

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