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.
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.
A single engine air tanker (SEAT) crashed while scooping water on a lake in Portugal on July 3, 2019. It happened near Trizio, in the municipality of Sertã, in Castelo Branco.
Just after the aircraft’s pontoons made contact with the water the aircraft tipped forward and may have flipped once or twice. It settled upright for a short while as the uninjured pilot self-extricated, then it sank in 25 meters of water.
The aircraft had been based at Proença-A-Nova, in Castelo Branco district.
It appears in the video below that the landing gear was down as it began scooping.
Divers with the Humanitarian Association of Volunteer Firefighters of Cernache do Bonjardim (BV Cernache do Bonjardim) recovered the aircraft from the lake bottom by attaching air bags. When it surfaced it was towed to the shore. These photos by BV Cernache do Bonjardim are used with their permission.
(Originally published at 10 a.m. MT February 25, 2018)
Portugal’s Ministry of Internal Administration has said it expects three of their six Kamov helicopters to be operational for this wildfire season.
From The Portugal News, February 15, 2018:
Of the state’s three heavy helicopters, one has had mechanical problems since 2012, while the other two have been awaiting repairs since 2015 – none of these form part of the firefighting forces. The remaining three Kamovs that are included in the force are also currently out of action – two for maintenance and the other because of “lack of certification”.
In comments to Lusa News Agency, the ministry explains that the two Kamovs that are currently being repaired are being given their 10-year revision. The third is operational, “although unavailable [due] to lack of certification of a component by the aeronautics authority” and is set to go on for its 10-year revision this month.
However, the ministry says, these three Kamovs “should be operational for [use] in fighting fires” this year.
These aircraft have been surrounded in controversy since the second-hand aircraft were purchased from Russians in 2007. Two of them have been grounded since they were acquired and others have been out of service for years at a time.
Major-General Francisco Grave Pereira, the head of Portugal’s National Civil Protection Authority, has had to resign and will face charges after the General Inspectorate of Internal Affairs (IGAI) accused him of a failure to act in the public interest in the Kamov fire-fighting helicopter purchase from the Russians and subsequent transfer to the private company Everjets.
One of the main beneficiaries of Portugal’s spate of fires is Everjets, bought by Domingos Névoa in 2015 along with a convenient long-term contract signed by the Civil Protection Authority.
The Inspectorate’s long-overdue report blamed Major-General Pereira for a breach of duty of care over the cost of repairs ordered by the Civil Protection Authority for the six helicopters, two of them remaining grounded ever since they were bought from the Russians.
The opening of the investigation came after the Civil Protection Authority detected “serious problems in the State-owned aircraft” which were transferred to Everjets.
Of the six Kamov helicopters bought, only three are fit to fly. Two have damaged mechanical systems and the third has never worked at all.
With less than three months to go before the start of the critical fire phase, the government is struggling to close its international tender for the lease of 50 fire-fighting facilities between helicopters and airplanes for three years. The jury ruled out almost all the tenders that submitted to the competition, admitting only one company, Helibravo, to rent ten light helicopters, according to the preliminary report to which the PUBLIC had access.
If this award could be delayed because of the contestation, as for the remaining 39 aircraft, there is no way for the procedure to proceed. The Ministry of Home Affairs was left without proposals for another 27 light helicopters, four Canadair, six Fireboss amphibious aircraft, the twin-engine observation aircraft (which no one competed for) and the light helicopter to Madeira.
Reports from numerous media outlets that an air tanker crashed in Portugal on Tuesday appear to be false.
A spokesman for Portugal’s Civil Protection Agency says none of the aircraft fighting the wildfires in the country are missing, in spite of the fact that Portugal’s Air Accident Office said it had received a call from the Civil Protection Agency notifying it of a plane crash.
The origin of the erroneous information may have come from a reporter for Antena 1 radio who said he heard an explosion about 10 miles away from the Pedrogao Grande area which has been hit by devastating wildfires in recent days. He said a local woman told him she saw a plane crash in a fireball on Tuesday. There have also been reports of propane tanks exploding in the fires.
It is possible that the lady saw an aircraft and the unrelated explosion, which appeared to be associated with the plane.
A Be-200ES struck a tree August 14 while fighting a fire in Portugal but thankfully was able to land safely at Leiria. The jet-powered amphibious water scooper sustained major damage to a pontoon, the right wing leading edge, and the right side wing flaps. There were no reports of injuries to the crew. Other photos of the damage can be seen here.
This is not the first time a Russian Be-200 hit a tree in Portugal. A similar accident occurred July 6, 2006 when the aircraft was leased to the Portuguese government as a trial to evaluate its effectiveness. After scooping water on a lake the left wing hit a tree.
From the Portuguese newspaper Correio da Manhã at the time:
…While hitting the top of the trees, leaves and some wood entered the left engine, which didn’t blow up, but that had to be turned off and the pilot was forced to release fuel for safety reasons. The release of the fuel started small wildfires across the area, reaching some houses, which were quickly extinguished by firefighters and helitack units of the GNR’s Intervention, Protection and Rescue Group.
The airplane was able to do an emergency landing at the Monte Real Air Base.
Until this month, Be-200 air tankers had not been used in Portugal since the 2006 incident. Maybe they’ll wait another 10 years before they try again.
A Russian news service is reporting that the two Be-200 Russian-made amphibious scooping air tankers have been effective in Portugal. Quoting the Russian Emergencies Ministry, Sputnik News wrote:
“Overall, two Emergencies Ministry aircraft carried out 37 discharges of water, the total mass of which amounted to 444 tonnes, tackling fire in four spots and saving four settlements and two national parks,” the statement reads.
“The Russian Emergencies Ministry’s airgroup, consisting of two Be-200ES aircraft, continues to work on extinguishing large forest fires in Portugal. On August 15, [Russian pilots] extinguished two fires covering a total area of 500 hectares [over 1,200 acres],” the statement reads.
It is possible the effectiveness of the aircraft is exaggerated. Air tankers do not “extinguish” fires. Under ideal conditions they can slow them down, allowing firefighters on the ground to move in closer and put them out.
A Russian-built Kamov KA-32 helicopter made a crash landing in British Columbia Sunday, August 4. Jen Norie of VIH Aviation Group confirmed that one of their helicopters was conducting water dropping operations on a wildfire near Bella Colla, British Columbia using an external bucket when the aircraft developed an engine problem. The ship made a hard landing on uneven terrain collapsing at least one landing gear, which caused the aircraft to tip over about 30 degrees. The twin overhead counter-rotating main rotors struck the ground, which of course destroyed them.
Thankfully the two pilots walked away with no injuries, so in that sense it was a “good landing”. There were no passengers on board.
Ms. Norie said the company has been operating KA-32s since the mid-1990s, accumulating over 46,000 flight hours without a major incident, until Sunday.