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.
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.
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.
Our sincere condolences go out to the family, friends, and coworkers. Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Charlie. Typos or errors, report them HERE.
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.
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. Typos or errors, report them HERE.
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.
A coroner’s inquest found that an inadequate inspection contributed to the crash of an air tanker in New South Wales, Australia.
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. Typos or errors, report them HERE.
Previously he had been a member of New Zealand’s Special Air Service, a special forces unit of the Army. He served in Afghanistan and was wounded in a firefight with the Taliban after his unit came to the aid of Afghan police when they were attacked at the InterContinental Hotel in Kabul in a five-hour battle.
Police, the Civil Aviation Authority, and the Transport Accident Investigation Commission are investigating the crash.
There are reports that 15 helicopters were fighting the recent wildfires near Christchurch that have burned 600 hectares (1,483 acres).
Our sincere condolences go out to Mr. Askin’s family, friends, and coworkers.
One person was seriously injured in the 2015 crash. The pilot and a USFS employee were killed.
The U.S. Forest Service has released a 90-page “Learning Review” about the March 30, 2015 crash of a helicopter that occurred during prescribed fire operations on a National Forest in Mississippi approximately 20 miles north of Gulfport. The accident took the lives of Forest Service employee Steve Cobb, contract pilot Brandon Ricks, and seriously injured another Forest Service employee on detail from Montana.
The helicopter was igniting a prescribed fire by using a plastic sphere dispenser (PSD), a device that drops small balls that burst into flame after they land on the ground. Steve Cobb was serving as the Firing Boss [FIRB] and the detailed employee was operating the PSD out of the right-rear door.
According to the pilot’s personal flight logbooks, he had accumulated 6,471 total hours of flight experience, about 6,300 hours of which were in the accident helicopter make and model. The owner estimated that the pilot had accrued 22 additional flight hours in the 90 days that preceded the accident.
Before the flight the engine on the helicopter failed to start on the first try, but the second attempt was successful. Later over the prescribed fire the aircraft made about 12 passes over the project and had been flying for about an hour when the crash occurred.
Below is an excerpt from the USFS report:
The PSD operator recalled they “were flying along 25-to-30 feet above the highest tree…things were going really well,” and they were nearly through the first bag of balls when he heard two alarm warning buzzers go off simultaneously or nearly so followed immediately by the pilot stating, “We lost power,” and FIRB saying, “We’re going in; we’re going in.”
The PSD operator swung his right leg over the PSD machine and back inside the helicopter, just as he had practiced in his head when he envisioned this scenario. He didn’t want his leg broken or trapped under the helicopter if it were to roll on its side. As he tightened his lap belt and pushed his back against the seat, hands on his knees in the crash position, he felt the helicopter tip backwards and to the right slightly. The PSD operator believed the pilot initiated this position purposefully, possibly as part of an autorotation. The descent through the tree canopy was not violent, and the helicopter slipped through the trees tail first. The impact with the ground was “abrupt.” The PSD operator felt the lap belt catch him; the impact knocked the wind out of him.
The PSD operator remembers the helicopter coming to rest more or less upright, and it was quiet. The PSD operator could hear breathing over the intercom system and “crackling” as the balls they had just dropped began to establish fire. He thought to himself, “I’m still alive!” He unbuckled the lap belt and unhooked the gunner strap’s tether from the helicopter, then reached forward to jostle the pilot, yelling at the pilot and FIRB, “We gotta get outta here.” He exited the helicopter from the right side and once on the ground, moved towards the front of the aircraft. He yelled again, “We gotta go,” calling each by name while realizing they were unconscious and that he wouldn’t be able to move them with his injuries. As it was, he was having difficulty breathing and standing up. He now heard the roar of the fire that had grown from small individual spots of fire to a wall of flames surrounding them; he knew it was time to move.
He turned and faced the wall of flames and thought, “I just survived a helicopter crash; I am going to live.” He recounted, “I started walking, through the wall of flames 10-to-15 feet thick, then all the glowing ashes on the other side and residual heat…hands over my face and screaming into my hands and saying, ‘Don’t fall, don’t fall’…everything was glowing and I just kept going…I could feel myself burning…the watchband melting on my wrist.” The PSD operator walked approximately 900 feet in a westerly direction to reach the 415A road and the western edge of the burn unit sometime between 1448 and 1451.
After a while he was found by firefighters and was eventually transported by ground ambulance to a waiting air ambulance which flew him to the University of Southern Alabama Hospital in Mobile, Alabama. His injuries included fractures of two cervical and two lumbar vertebrae, left ocular and left side ribs; and intestinal and hernia tears.
The National Transportation Safety Board concluded the helicopter experienced a “loss of engine power for reasons that could not be determined”. The helicopter did not catch fire when it hit the ground, but it was soon ignited by the spreading prescribed fire, hampering the NTSB investigation.
The USFS Learning Review emphasized several issues related to the accident — not necessarily causes, but items for discussion. One was the decision to ignite the project from a helicopter rather than from the ground.
The primary purpose for utilizing helicopters for aerial ignition in this region is to mitigate the exposure of ground resources to the hazards of hand-lighting units. For Unit 1459, like most units on the De Soto Ranger District, a combination of the vegetation, terrain, and fire behavior make hand-lighting units inefficient and hazardous. Flame lengths of greater than four feet combined with difficult walking conditions raise a red flag for a burn boss concerning firefighter safety. Plants such as palmetto (Serenoa repens), gallberry (Llex spp.), ti-ti (Cyrilla racemiflora), and smilax (Smilax spp.) when combined with needles from longleaf, slash, and Loblolly pines can create flame lengths in excess of 10 feet with as little as a two-to-three year accumulation of dead material. These species are also very difficult to traverse. Smilax vines can ensnare firefighters and drip torches and stop them in their tracks. This area also still has some large dead fuel concentrations as a result of Hurricane Katrina. In these areas people working in the woods may encounter downed timber that can stop heavy equipment from forward progress.
Using an airborne resource for igniting a fire rather than personnel on the ground does not eliminate risk. It transfers it.
Another issue was the required flight characteristics of a helicopter while igniting a fire with a PSD. An air tanker when dropping retardant has to fly low and slow to be effective. Similarly, with the current versions of the PSD, a helicopter’s recommended speed should not exceed 50 mph (43 knots), while the preferred altitude is 300 feet above ground level (AGL).
Hovering out of ground effect (HOGE) is the typical flight profile.
The last data from the helicopter provided by the Automated Flight Following (AFF) before the crash indicated it was at 132 feet AGL and traveling at 43 knots.
From the report:
It is clear how organizational processes influenced the acceptance of risk. As a result, risk assessments did not consider the flight profile, as it was already determined that low/slow was necessary in order to accomplish the work. The fact that the recommendations for airspeed and altitude were heavily influenced by the capability of the PSD likely influenced a gradual decay over time of the options and decision space for the pilot to maintain optimal combinations of airspeed and altitude. The fact that this is a successful tool available for conducting prescribed burn operations, sets the stage to “justify” its use, rather than to prompt the agency to look at better options or technology.
The acknowledgement of these flight conditions in agency guides likely affects the deliberate acceptance of a “low and slow” profile as necessary for the accomplishment of the mission. A low/slow flight profile makes sense because it is suggested within written procedure. Over a period of time (4+ decades), confidence and acceptability of the flight parameters strengthens with each successful mission, along with a slight departure from the awareness of the hazards associated with the flight profiles. This is a demonstration of how the production goals creep into mission planning to dominate the protection goals without recognition of such. In this case, all required policy was followed and personnel were conducting their work within the operational norms set up by agency policy and culture.
The Learning Review has numerous recommendations, including modifying the existing PSD machines to enable the helicopter to fly higher and faster. Another is to invent an entirely new method of aerial ignition in order to mitigate the low and slow flight profile.