National Park Service Regional Aviation Manager and Safety Manager killed in Alaska plane crash

The two men died May 27 in the accident near Whitehorse International Airport

(From the National Park Service, May 29, 2019)

The National Park Service (NPS) is mourning the loss of two of its Alaska-based employees following an airplane crash in Whitehorse, Canada on Monday evening.

The two men, Jeff Babcock and Charles Eric Benson, were on a personal trip to ferry a privately-owned airplane from the Lower 48 to Anchorage, Alaska, when the plane went down shortly after take-off from Whitehorse International Airport.

According to Canadian officials and witnesses the airplane crashed at about 5:30 p.m. Monday shortly after takeoff into a forested area south of the airport. A column of smoke was seen rising from the area and emergency personnel from Whitehorse Fire Department, the Whitehorse RCMP and airport firefighters responded immediately to the scene.

Jeff Babcock served as the NPS Alaska Region Aviation Manager and Charles Eric Benson was the NPS Alaska Region Safety Manager. “Jeff and Eric were two of our very best and the National Park Service and Alaska Region have suffered a terrible loss,” said Bert Frost, NPS Alaska Regional Director. “Our thoughts and prayers are with the families of Jeff and Eric and we are heartbroken,” said Frost.

Both men were accomplished professionals, as well as skilled airmen. Prior to working for the National Park Service:

Jeff Babcock had a distinguished 23-year career as a Sergeant, Lieutenant, and Captain in the Alaska State Troopers where he served as a Commercial Pilot, Aircraft and Vessel Section Supervisor, Use of Force Instructor, Accident Reconstructionist, Undercover Investigator, Internal Investigator, Tactical Dive Master, Firearms Instructor, and Certified Flight Instructor. After retiring from the Alaska State Troopers, and before coming to work with the National Park Service, Jeff flew for 7 years as a pilot for K-2 Aviation. He enjoyed flying guests around Mt. Denali and sharing with them his favorite parts of Alaska.

Eric Benson served for 25 years in both the U.S. Air Force and in the U.S. Army in a variety of assignments. From 1993-1994 he attended and graduated from the Initial Entry Rotary Wing Qualification and the Aviation Officer Basic Courses at Fort Rucker Alabama. He then served as a UH-60 Army Aviator, Platoon Leader, Company Executive Officer, Brigade Aviation Element, and an Aviation Maintenance Company Commander. Eric’s active duty career culminated in December of 2007, with the 10th Mountain Division while serving as a Battalion Executive Officer for the General Support Aviation Battalion at Fort Drum, New York. He joined the National Park Service after retiring from the U.S. Army.

Jeff Babcock and Eric Benson were long-time residents of Alaska and are well-known throughout the state. Services for Jeff Babcock will be held on Saturday, June 1, 2019 at The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, The Colony Chapel, 9475 East Silver Springs Circle, Palmer, Alaska at 11:00 a.m. Everyone is welcome to attend. Private services are pending for Eric Benson.

Jeff Babcock killed plane crash Alaska
Jeff Babcock. NPS photo.
Eric Benson killed plane crash Alaska
Eric Benson. Photo courtesy of the Benson family.

Helicopter crash, with injuries, starts fire, and rescuers are burned over

In addition to the personnel injured in the helicopter crash, two rescuers became victims

helicopter crash site
An overview of the crash site and the extraction point for the three victims. Photo from the report.

A report has been released for a helicopter crash in a very remote area of Nevada that started a fire, injured two passengers, and resulted in rescuers being burned over. It happened August 18, 2018 about 10 miles north of Battle Mountain.

One of the passengers called 911 on a cell phone at 1357:

We just got into a helicopter crash…three occupants, all of us are alive and managed to get out…started a big fire, fire is burning all around us right now…one of the guys hit his head pretty hard…you’re gonna have to get a helicopter, it’s the only way to get in here.

Adding to the complexity was the fact that several different agencies and organizations had various responsibilities: Lander County Dispatch, Battle Mountain Volunteer Fire Department, local EMS services, a medical helicopter, Elko Interagency Dispatch Center, and Central Nevada Interagency Dispatch Center.

As might be expected the complex communication chain between the victims and the actual emergency responders created some difficulties, including a delay in extracting the three personnel.

The Facilitated Learning Analysis does not speculate what caused the crash of the helicopter that was transporting two biologists on a chukar survey, but it started a fire, which was named Sheep Creek. The biologists and the pilot self-extracted, one of them with what appeared to be a serious head injury, and they all hiked up a steep slope to a flat bench where they awaited a helicopter. About two hours after the 911 call the three were evacuated from the scene by a firefighting helicopter that was on scene, and possibly also a medical helicopter. The report is not clear about this.

helicopter crash site
A closer view of the crash site. Photo from the report.

Meanwhile a volunteer fire department Type 4 engine that had responded in a search and rescue mode toward the crash site found that the condition of the road they were traveling on deteriorated from a 2-track road to a 4×4 trail, and finally ended. At that point the fire was closing in on their location. The rookie firefighter and the Fire Chief got out, and leaving their wildland fire personal protective gear in the truck, began to spray water around the vehicle.

From the report:

Within seconds, the fire was all around Pumper- 2. Both individuals were caught outside of the vehicle while trying to spray water. Neither had on their personal protective equipment (PPE) when the burnover occurred. The Chief stated, “We were in a rescue mission, so we had no PPE on.”

During the burnover, the firefighter jumped off the back of Pumper-2, started to run around the vehicle and then took refuge under Pumper-2. “I was burning and screaming and hunkered down underneath behind the rear tires.” After the burnover, the Chief yelled for the firefighter, whom he could not see anywhere. He eventually located the firefighter under Pumper-2.

After sustaining significant burns, both the Chief and firefighter got back into the vehicle, with the Chief driving, continuing down drainage. The fire was behind them as they continued driving through the black towards the bottom of the drainage. Pumper-2 drove through the bottom of the drainage over the rough terrain until getting stuck. Both individuals got out of the vehicle and proceeded to hike up the steep ridge until they got on top of the ridge to establish communications.

At 1646, Lander County Dispatch received a 911 call from the firefighter, who said he and the Chief had been burned. “We need help.” Dispatch was asking questions to establish a location, but the cell phone was breaking up. The firefighter said, “We might need a helicopter because we are on the ridge…in the black…wearing a red shirt and just uphill right of the engine.”

Suppression resources were actively engaged on the wildland fire during the burnover of the Pumper-2. The Incident Commander of the wildland fire was unaware that Pumper-2 was on the fire until well after the burnover occurred. The dispatch centers did not know the location of Pumper-2.

At 1745 the injured firefighters were located and extracted by the air medical and suppression helicopters to awaiting ground medical resources at Battle Mountain Airport. At about 1900, fixed-wing aircraft flew the injured firefighters to the University of Utah Burn Center in Salt Lake City, Utah.

The FLA points out a number of organizational and human issues that are worthy of consideration. One topic that was not thoroughly addressed in the report was the dispatchers and firefighting personnel at times did not know the exact location of the crash site or the victims, and were not aware that the engine was responding or it’s location following the injuries to the two firefighters.

Even when, eventually, the location of emergency responders will be able to be tracked on an incident, biologists and volunteer firefighters will probably be some of the last personnel to employ this capability on a routine basis.

Wreckage found of missing Russian air tanker

This article first appeared on Fire Aviation.

Russian rescuers
Rescuers in Russia board a helicopter to fly to the site of the air tanker crash. Screen shot from EMERCOM of Russia video.

The wreckage of the Russian air tanker that was reported missing in Siberia on July 1 has been found. Rescuers found the debris of the Ilyushin IL-76 plane at approximately 2 a.m. Moscow time in the Kachug District, 9 km southeast of the settlement of Rybny Uyan.

Сегодня при обследовании места предполагаемого крушения самолета Ил-76 МЧС России летчиком-наблюдателем Авиалесоохраны Иркутской области Антипиным Александром в Качугском районе было обнаружено место крушения самолета Ил-76 МЧС России. В настоящее время десантники-пожарные Федеральной Авиалесоохраны в глухом лесу, где упал самолет, проводят расчистку площадки для приземления вертолета со спасателями МЧС. #леснойпожар #лес #пламя #героизм #парашютисты #десантники #огонь #пожар #лесной_пожарный #Avialesookhrana #Forest #fire #firefighter #smokejumpers #лесныепожары #bomberos #авиация #firefighterslife #пламя #aviation #plane #bombeiros #самолет #авиалесоохрана #рослесхоз #мчс #ил76 #трагедия

A photo posted by Федеральная Авиалесоохрана (@avialesookhrana) on

From the air the in the smoky conditions in the forest the only recognizable part of the aircraft was the tail.

Initially there were conflicting reports on the number of personnel on board, ranging from 9 to 11, but Russian authorities on Sunday confirmed there were 10. The remains of six and one flight recorder have been located. Marines are clearing an area to be used as a helispot.

Below is an excerpt from an article in the New Indian Express:

…A Russian aviation agencies source told TASS news agency that the plane most likely lost control because of interference from hot air from the wildfire that it was trying to douse with water.

“It’s possible that hot air from the wildfires got into the engines, the plane lost propulsion and could not gain altitude, hit the top of the trees and fell,” the source was quoted as saying.

The plane’s tail was discovered by another firefighter on today morning, said the Russian forestry agency’s aviation unit.

Last week another firefighter died on duty in Russia’s far-eastern Kamchatka region, the regional government revealed.

The forestry agency’s aviation unit said today that over 43 thousand hectares of forest land is burning in Russia, mostly in Siberia.

But Russia’s Greenpeace which monitors wildfires via satellite data said government figures are vastly underestimated, with 415 thousand hectares burning in Irkutsk region alone.

Former Carson Helicopter officials to be sentenced today and tomorrow

Carson helicopter(UPDATED at 1:22 p.m. MT, June 16, 2015)

 

On June 16, 2015 Steve Metheny, the former Vice President of Carson Helicopters, was sentenced to 12 years and 7 months in prison for falsifying documents that led to the crash of a helicopter in 2008 that killed 9 people.

More information about the sentencing.

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(Originally published at 7:29 a.m. MT, June 15, 2015)

Two men will be sentenced Monday and Tuesday of this week for charges related to a helicopter accident that killed nine pilots and firefighters. The 2008 crash of the Sikorsky S-61N helicopter occurred on the Iron 44 Fire (or Iron Complex) on the Shasta-Trinity National Forest near Weaverville, California.

Killed were the pilot-in-command, a U.S. Forest Service check pilot, and seven firefighters. The copilot and three firefighters were seriously injured. The helicopter was operated by Carson Helicopters, Inc. of Grants Pass, Oregon.

The sentencing hearing for Steven Metheny, 44, the former Vice President of Carson Helicopters, will be held at 9 a.m. today, June 15 in federal court in Medford, Oregon. He pleaded guilty to one count each of filing a false statement and of conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud while submitting documents to obtain $20 million in firefighting contracts with the U.S. Forest Service. He could be sentenced to 25 years in prison and fines amounting to $250,000.

The sentencing hearing for Levi Phillips, 45, the former maintenance chief of Carson Helicopters, will occur on Tuesday, June 16. He pleaded guilty to a single charge of fraud and now faces up to 20 years in prison and up to $250,000 in fines. He agreed to cooperate with authorities in the case against Mr. Metheny.

Killed in the crash were pilot Roark Schwanenberg, 54; USFS check pilot Jim Ramage, 63; and firefighters Shawn Blazer, 30; Scott Charlson, 25; Matthew Hammer, 23; Edrik Gomez, 19; Bryan Rich, 29; David Steele, 19; and Steven “Caleb” Renno, 21. The copilot and three other firefighters were seriously injured.

The Register Guard has an interesting article about the family of firefighter Scott Charlson, and how they had a difficult decision to make about attending Mr. Metheny’s hearing or the college graduation of Mr. Charlson’s brother. Both begin at 9 a.m. on Monday.

According to the National Transportation Safety Board, there was “intentional wrong-doing” by Carson Helicopters that under-stated the weight of the helicopter and over-stated its performance in the documents they provided to the U.S. Forest Service when bidding on their firefighting contract. 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 NTSB determined that for the mission of flying the firefighters off the helispot that day, the helicopter was already over the allowable weight even without the seven firefighters on board.

In a statement sent to sentencing judge Ann Aiken, Nina Charlson, the mother of fallen firefighter Scott Charlson, wrote:

Steve Methany’s hands are all over this tragedy.  For the Defense lawyer and Steve Methany to say the criminal actions of Steve Methany had nothing to do with the Iron 44 tragedy is another boldface disgusting lie.

The maximum sentence possible within the US Federal Court of Law should be served to Steven Methany because of his criminal actions which resulted in the horrific deaths of 9 men one of which was my son Scott Charlson.  Our family will never be okay because of this tragedy.

 

Articles on Wildfire Today tagged Iron 44.