Survivor talks about helicopter crash

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Michael Brown, one of the four survivors of the August 5 helicopter crash in northern California that killed nine firefighters, talked to the press while recovering from his injuries at his mother’s home in Rogue River, Oregon. An excerpt:

As the helicopter lifted off, it felt “sluggish,” he said. Then, Brown heard a sickening thump and watched as the helicopter’s main rotor smashed into tree limbs and splintered.


“All these alarms started going off,” Brown recalled. “I remember the ‘beep beep beep’ and then I heard the pilot shouting ‘Mayday! Mayday! Helicopter going down!’ into his headset.”

William Coultas, the co-pilot, shouted at the men to put their heads between their knees.

“It was pretty scary — it all happened so fast,” Brown said. “The helicopter was leaning to the left. Then I remember hitting the ground really hard.”

There was a fire, he said, and thick smoke.

“Rick Schroeder told me later that seats had collapsed on top of us, and he must have pushed them off. I couldn’t unbuckle the harness, but somehow I wriggled out. Rick said he jumped out the side door,” Brown said.

Brown, who doesn’t remember how he got there, was found by other firefighters 200 yards down the slope from the burning wreckage.

Schroeder and 18-year-old Jonathan Frohreich were found about 20 yards away from the crash site, Brown said, “because they were hurt much worse than I was. I made it a lot further.”

Coultas, the fourth and final survivor, was badly burned. He remains in fair condition at UC Davis Medical Center. The others have returned home.

Killed were Roark Schwanenberg; Jim Ramage; Shawn Blazer, 30, of Medford; Scott Charlson, 25, of Phoenix, Ore.; Matthew Hammer, 23, of Grants Pass; Edrik Gomez, 19, of Ashland; Bryan Rich, 29, of Medford; David Steele, 19, of Ashland; and Steven “Caleb” Renno, 21, of Cave Junction.

A preliminary report on the crash by the NTSB found that the helicopter lost power to its main rotor as it took off. The investigation — which could take up to a year before a final report is issued — is focusing on the downed helicopter’s engines, drive shaft and transmission.

Most of Brown’s injuries were to his face — including broken cheekbones, a broken nose, a dislocated jaw and a concussion. It will take another two to three months before he can return to work at Grayback, where he hopes to work in the forest this fall and winter.

Meanwhile, he is “sitting around and getting better” at his mother’s house, cashing his workers’ compensation checks to make ends meet. He has trouble sleeping, but says he will return to fight fires next season.

His thoughts are with the men who died that day.

“I lost seven guys who were really close to me,” Brown said. “I do my best to remember them the way they were.”

From Oregonlive


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