Mother of firefighter who died in helicopter crash releases statement

Sikorsky S-61N helicopter operated by Carson
Sikorsky S-61N helicopter operated by Carson

The parents of Scott Charlson will be leaving soon to attend the National Transportation Safety Board forum on the use of “public aircraft”, which includes the helicopters, air tankers, and other fixed wing aircraft operated by the federal land management agencies on wildfires. Scott, along with eight other firefighters and air crew members, was killed when an overweight helicopter with falsified specification documents operated by Carson Helicopters crashed in 2008 on the Iron Complex fire near Weaverville, California.

Unlike passenger-carrying airlines, the operation of “public aircraft” operated by land management agencies receives very little oversight from the Federal Aviation Administration. That is left up to agencies like the U.S. Forest Service, which, perhaps, is more skilled at harvesting trees than regulating aircraft. A more qualified level of oversight may have prevented the deaths on the Iron Complex fire.

The NTSB forum will be held in Washington D.C. and will begin at 9:00 a.m. ET, Wednesday, November 30, 2011 continuing through Thursday, December 1st. It will be available for the public to view live on the internet at the NTSB web site. We wrote more about the forum on November 23, and our article about the NTSB investigation of the accident is HERE.

Nina Charlson, the mother of Fallen Firefighter Scott Charlson, released the following statement today:


My husband Rick and I along with several other Iron44 families are travelling back to Washington DC to a forum (Nov. 30 & Dec. 1) being held by the NTSB Board regarding oversight of public aircraft. This aircraft that went down was called an “orphan” by the NTSB Board. We are going back to show support to the NTSB in their quest for safety changes. We want to remind people who shuffle paper and try to make budget that their decisions affect peoples lives. Our plea is for them not to forget that. We cannot bring our loved ones back but if we can stand up for safety changes for future passengers – that is what we want to do.

Another reason we are releasing a statement at this time is it is nearly the one year anniversary (Dec. 7) of the release of the final NTSB report regarding this tragedy. The NTSB Board requested a criminal investigation be done into the practices of Carson Helicopters – especially the act of falsifying weight and lift charts. Overweight is deemed to be the main cause of the crash according to the NTSB Board. Frank Carson of Carson helicopters refuted their findings shortly after the final report was released. I am sure you can find that in your archives.

Several families have been trying to find out if there is a criminal investigation going on and we cannot get any information whether there is one taking place or not. Our loved ones were killed serving the public and if there were criminal actions that caused the crash we want to make sure those charges are pursued. The Fallen and their family and friends are victims of a lot of negligence and possibly criminal activity. We know Carson Helicopters would like for us to go away but at this time I cannot let that happen. We hope the media will draw attention to the details of the cause(s) of this tragedy and hopefully help some safety changes to take place. We hope no other parents, spouses, brothers, children, grandparents or friends have to go through what we have because of negligence and lies.

Thank you.


Nina Charlson mother of Fallen Firefighter Scott Charlson


UPDATE November 29, 2011: here are some excerpts from an article in today’s San Francisco Chronicle:

…Federal, state and local agencies own or lease more than 2,400 nonmilitary planes and helicopters for fighting forest fires, chasing crooks, conducting scientific research and other tasks. By comparison, the world’s largest airline — created by the merger of United and Continental — and its regional carriers operate fewer than 1,300 planes.

But unlike United, Continental and other commercial airlines, government agencies are mostly left to police the safety of their flight operations themselves. The Federal Aviation Administration has long said it doesn’t have the authority to apply regulations to other government agencies.


The NTSB forum was spurred in part by the agency’s two-year investigation of the August 2008 crash of a firefighting helicopter near Weaverville in Northern California. Nine people were killed and four others injured. The company that operated the flight misrepresented the performance capabilities of its helicopters in order to win a U.S. Forest Service firefighting contract, and then gave misinformation to its own pilots, causing them to underestimate the aircraft’s weight, NTSB’s investigation found.

The board faulted the Forest Service for not ensuring the helicopter operator was following safety regulations as promised in its contract. It also faulted the FAA, whose inspectors checked the safety of aircraft the contractor used for nongovernment work, but ignored helicopters used for government assignments.

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Author: Bill Gabbert

After working full time in wildland fire for 33 years, he continues to learn, and strives to be a Student of Fire.

3 thoughts on “Mother of firefighter who died in helicopter crash releases statement”

  1. Nina, please send me an-email at where I am today. For info on my son’s story, on the home page of this website, scroll down on left side and click on fatality, then read the story about Caleb Hamm. I will explain to you when you e-mail me, but take a moment and read the replies under his story.

  2. Nina, I so understand! That is what my husband Dave and I are up against also–falsifying records, lies. We have to stand up, let them know this isn’t going to continue on our watch. No more parents should have to grieve because of negligence. My heart is with you, hang in there.


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