The Carson helicopter that crashed last year on the Iron 44 fire and killed nine firefighters was much heavier than U.S. Forest Service recommendations, according to National Transportation Safety Board reports. The NTSB said the weight was near maximum for vertical takeoff, requiring near-maximum engine power. So instead of climbing up on takeoff, the helicopter went forward, clipping trees before it crashed. Seven contract firefighters, the pilot, and a USFS inspector pilot were killed; four others survived.
On August 5, 2008, the Sikorsky S-61N crashed on takeoff from a remote site in the Shasta-Trinity National Forest near Weaverville, California. The NTSB is suggesting that Carson Helicopters understated the weight of its aircraft and kept spotty maintenance records; the company’s contract with the USFS was terminated last fall.
The NTSB estimated that the actual empty weight of the helicopter was 13,845 pounds, while Carson Helicopters stated in their contract proposal that the weight was 12,013 pounds. For the purpose of load calculations on the day of the crash, the pilot assumed the weight to be 12,408 pounds, which was 1,437 pounds less than the actual weight estimated by the NTSB.
The Oregonian reports that Carson, on the other hand, accuses investigators of neglecting critical facts in a rush to judgment. They say the NTSB used bad data in calculating the weather’s effect on helicopter performance, and that investigators extrapolated the temperature at 73ºF. at the site. Voice recordings from the co-pilot indicate the temperature was actually 68ºF.
Carson says the NTSB is trying to support a “preconceived conclusion” by using the higher temp in its calculations, and they also argue that the NTSB should have examined whether malfunctioning fuel control units caused the crash.
Killed on the incident were pilot Roark Schwanenberg, 54; pilot Jim Ramage, 63; Shawn Blazer, 30; Scott Charlson, 25; Matthew Hammer, 23; Edrik Gomez, 19; Bryan Rich, 29; David Steele, 19; and Steven “Caleb” Renno, 21. The Wildland Firefighter Foundation has a tribute page online [HERE].