Helicopter crash during aerial ignition operations likely caused by loose fuel line

There was one fatality and two serious injuries in the 2019 crash in Texas

Map helicopter crash

This article was first published at Fire Aviation

The National Transportation Safety Board has released their factual report on the crash of an AS350 helicopter that occurred March 27, 2019 during operations on a prescribed fire in Texas. Three people were on board, a pilot and two firefighters. The surviving firefighter and pilot were able to exit the helicopter; however, the second firefighter was partially ejected and sustained fatal injuries. The pilot suffered serious injuries and the surviving firefighter’s injuries were minor. The two injured personnel were transported to a hospital in stable condition after rescuers extracted them from the wreckage using jaws and air bags.

Daniel J. Laird. Tahoe National Forest photo.

The firefighter killed was Daniel Laird, a Captain on the Tahoe Helitack crew in California. He left behind a wife and young daughter.

Mr. Laird was a U.S. Forest Service employee who, along with the other firefighter and the pilot, were on an aerial ignition mission on the Sam Houston National Forest. Their equipment was dropping plastic spheres that burst into flame after hitting the ground, helping to ignite the prescribed fire. The ship came to rest outside the active area of the prescribed fire and there was no additional fire caused by the crash.

The pilot and surviving crew member reported that after completing the application of plastic spheres they began flying back to the staging area when the engine lost total power.

Texas March 27, 2019 helicopter crash aerial ignitions
The March 27, 2019 helicopter crash in Texas. Photo by Sgt. Erik Burse/Texas Department of Public Safety.

Most NTSB accident reports are fairly straightforward, but this report, due to the way it is written, still leaves a small amount of doubt about the cause of the engine failure. However, signs point toward a loose fuel line.

“The fuel line between the firewall and hydro-mechanical unit (HMU) was loose and the required safety wire was not installed,” it says, and no other discrepancies were found. It does not say if the fuel line was loose enough to cause the engine to lose power.

From the NTSB report:

Federal Aviation Administration inspectors from the Houston Flight Standards District Office interviewed Mountain Air’s Director of Maintenance, who stated that on February 14, 2019, the USFS requested to validate the helicopter’s weight and balance. The helicopter was defueled, which involved disconnecting the main fuel line. After the weight and balance were verified, the main fuel line was reconnected. The director of maintenance asked another mechanic to verify that the fuel lines were reconnected, which was reportedly accomplished. The mechanic that accomplished the work informed the operator that he “was confident” that he torqued and secured the line. There was no other maintenance work which involved opening the fuel line after that day. On February 23, 2019, the helicopter’s engine would not light, and the engine’s igniters and/or igniter box was replaced. A maintenance records review found that the helicopter flew about 24.9 hours after the weight and balance was conducted on February 14, 2019.

On March 25, 2019, the pilot reported to management that the fuel pressure light had “flickered” during a flight “a few days before;” the pilot turned on the fuel boost pump, turned it off, and the light never reappeared. The pilot was informed to monitor the situation and report if it occurred again.

Following the accident, the digital engine control unit (DECU) was removed and sent to the manufacturer for data download. On April 11, 2019, the DECU was downloaded under the auspices of the FAA. The last recorded fault was a “P3 drift or engine flame out.”

The helicopter, N818MC, was owned Mountain Air Helicopters, Inc.  The company has five other helicopters and a Cessna 414A registered with the FAA.

In 2015 two were killed in Mississippi under similar circumstances on a prescribed fire when engine failure brought down a helicopter conducting aerial ignition operations. A third person suffered serious injuries.

march 30, 2015 helicopter crash Mississippi aerial ignitions
The helicopter involved in the March 30, 2015 incident in Mississippi, N50KH, is shown with doors removed and Pilot and PSD operator positions visible.

Our take

Flying low and slow in a single-engine helicopter while igniting fire below the aircraft is obviously very, very dangerous. These three fatalities offer very compelling justification for using drones for aerial ignition instead of manned aircraft.


Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Sean.

Night-flying air tanker crashes while working on wildfire in Colorado

The pilot was killed

Updated at 4:56 p.m. MST Nov. 17, 2021

Wednesday afternoon CO Fire Aviation released a statement that identified the pilot who was killed Nov. 16 during a night-flying air tanker mission on the Kruger Rock Fire southeast of Estes Park, Colorado.

The CO Fire Aviation family is deeply saddened by the sudden, tragic loss of one of our brothers serving as a tanker pilot. Marc Thor Olson was a highly decorated veteran of both the Army and Air Force with 32 years of service to our country. During Thor’s 42 years of flight, he had amassed more than 8,000 total flight hours with an impressive 1,000 hours of NVG flight including in combat and civilian flight.

Co Fire maintains a close working relationship with multi regulatory agencies and is fully cooperating with the proper authorities and partners during this investigation.

While we are gravely aware of the inherent dangers of aerial fire fighting and the questions that remain; we ask that family and friends be given distance and time to process and heal as we grieve this loss. Your prayers are appreciated during this difficult time.

A preliminary map appears to show that the fire was just inside the boundary of the Roosevelt National Forest. The Larimer County Sheriff’s office said on Wednesday that as of 7 a.m. Wednesday the fire was managed by a unified command with the US Forest Service and the Sheriff. In Colorado the local county sheriffs are given the responsibility for suppressing wildfires outside of cities unless they are on federal land.

Map, Kruger Rock Fire
The map shows the approximate location of the Kruger Rock Fire. It is based heat detected by satellites as late as 1:40 p.m. MST Nov. 16, 2021. Clouds degraded the ability of satellites to obtain good quality data.

The crash occurred at about 6:35 p.m MST on Tuesday Nov. 16 while attempting to suppress the fire. This was about 1 hour and 49 minutes after sunset, and was the first time a fixed wing air tanker had dropped fire suppressant on a fire at night in Colorado.

11:29 p.m. MST Nov. 16, 2021

AT-802F single engine air tanker
File photo of the aircraft that crashed November 16, 2021. Air Tractor AT-802A, N802NZ, owned by CO Fire Aviation. Photo by Aviation Specialties Unlimited September, 2018.

An air tanker that was working the Kruger Rock Fire southeast of Estes Park, Colorado Tuesday night November 16 crashed, killing the pilot, the only person on board. The Single Engine Air Tanker (SEAT) had taken off from Northern Colorado Regional Airport, formerly known as the Fort Collins-Loveland Municipal Airport, at 6:13 p.m. MST Nov. 16 and disappeared from flight tracking 22 minutes later at 6:35 p.m. MST. Earlier in the day it departed from the Fort Morgan, Colorado airport, orbited the fire about half a dozen times, then landed at Northern Colorado Regional Airport at 4:38 p.m. MST.

The incident was first reported by KUSA, 9News in Denver. Marc Sallinger, reporter for the station, had interviewed the pilot earlier in the day, and wrote on Twitter, “My thoughts and prayers are with the pilot who took off tonight, so excited for this history-making flight. He told me ‘this is the culmination of 5 years of hard work.’ He showed me his night vision goggles and how they worked. He was so kind. Holding out hope for him.”

Eyewitnesses reported the crash at approximately 6:37 p.m., but in the dark it was very difficult to pinpoint the location. After three hours of searching, firefighters found it near the south end of Hermit Park. Unfortunately the pilot was deceased.

The aircraft was an Air Tractor 802A, registration number N802NZ, owned by CO Fire Aviation. In 2018 we wrote about the company’s efforts to configure this aircraft for fighting fires at night. Helicopters have been doing it off and on for decades, but a fixed wing air tanker dropping retardant on a fire at night is extremely rare. In 2020 and 2021 CO Fire Aviation had one of their SEATs working on a night-flying contract in Oregon. The company says they are the only operators of night-flying fixed wing air tankers.

Earlier this year a video was posted on YouTube that featured CO Fire Aviation conducting a night-flying demonstration at Loveland, Colorado. That segment begins at 8:15 in the video.

At 6 p.m. the Larimer County Sheriff’s office said the Kruger Rock Fire had burned about 133 acres. More information about the fire.

Our sincere condolences go out to the pilot’s family, friends, and coworkers.

The article was edited to show that the crash was first reported by KUSA, 9News in Denver.

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Tom.

Air tanker crashes in Turkey with eight on board

Was being leased from Russia

9:29 a.m MDT August 14, 2021

A Be-200ES rolls out for the public while another makes a demonstration water drop. May 30, 2016. Beriev photo.

(This article was first published on Fire Aviation)

The Russian Defense Ministry has confirmed that a Beriev Be-200 air tanker crashed in Turkey Saturday. There was no immediate word on the condition of the five Russian army personnel and three Turkish officers that were on board.

A low resolution video (below) showed what may have been the aircraft dropping water then continuing toward what appeared to be rising terrain.

The aircraft was being leased from Russia and went down near Adana, the Russian Defense Ministry said.

The Turkish state news agency Anadolu reported that rescuers who rushed to the scene had video footage showing plumes of smoke from the site.

Beriev began manufacturing the Be-200 in 2003. It is one of the few purpose-built air tankers, designed primarily for fighting wildland fires. The aircraft can land or take off on water or land, and the firefighting version can scoop water to refill its 3,000-gallon tanks. It can be converted to haul passengers or serve as a search and rescue aircraft, landing on water to retrieve victims if necessary.

Roughly 10 years ago U.S. Forest Service employees traveled to Taganrog, Russia the home base of the Beriev company, to conduct tests to determine if the Be-200 could be approved by the Interagency Airtanker Board (IAB). At the time, we heard unofficial reports that it met the criteria for water-scooping air tankers, but tests were not completed for dropping fire retardant.

Be-200ES air tanker
File photo of Be-200ES air tanker. Beriev photo.

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Tom.

Four wildland firefighters receive minor injuries in vehicle rollover

Working on the Skyline Ridge Complex 22 miles southeast of Roseburg, Oregon

1:53 p.m. PDT August 12, 2021

Map of the Skyline Ridge Complex accident injuries firefighters
Map of the Skyline Ridge Complex of fires at 8:22 p.m. PDT August 11, 2021

Four firefighters assigned to the Skyline Ridge Complex of fires in Oregon were transported by ambulance Wednesday morning August 11 after their vehicle rolled over.

The Douglas County Sheriff’s Office reported that a crew vehicle transporting fire personnel from their night shift assignment on the Skyline Ridge Complex east of Canyonville struck approximately 60 to 70 feet of guardrail before driving up a hillside and rolling over. The crash resulted in non-life threatening injuries to four firefighters who were transported by ambulance to Mercy Medical Center in Roseburg, Oregon where they were treated and later released.

The call came in to 9-1-1 at approximately 9:53 a.m. of a single vehicle rollover crash in the 15000-block of Tiller Trail Highway roughly 10 miles east of Canyonville and Interstate 5.

The injured personnel are part of a 20-person crew assigned to the fire. Additional crew members traveling in two other vehicles were not involved in the accident.

Deputies determined the driver, a 38-year-old wildland firefighter from Salem, Oregon fell asleep at the wheel while returning to fire camp after working the night shift on the fire. Alcohol and speed were not contributing factors in the crash and no citations or arrests were made.

The Skyline Ridge Complex is a group of fires started from lightning on August 1, 2021 about south-southeast of Roseburg, Oregon. Combined, the fires have burned 3,546 acres.

These firefighters were very lucky. From 1990 through 2014, 22 percent of the wildland firefighter fatalities were the result of vehicle accidents.

Wildland firefighter fatalities 1990-2014

Articles on Wildfire Today tagged “sleep”.

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Kelly.

The two aerial firefighters killed in July 10 aircraft crash in Arizona have been identified

5:20 p.m. MDT July 11, 2021

King Air C-90
File photo, example of a King Air C-90. This is not the aircraft that crashed.

The Bureau of Land Management has released the names of the two men killed July 10 in the crash of an air attack aircraft in Arizona.

The incident occurred at about noon during initial attack efforts on the Cedar Basin Fire, which is 14 miles east of Wikieup in northwestern Arizona.

Pilot Matthew Miller, 48, and Air Tactical Group Supervisor Jeff Piechura, 62, were on board a Beechcraft King Air C-90 aircraft conducting visual reconnaissance and aviation command and control over the fire. Mr. Miller was a fire pilot with Falcon Executive Aviation, Inc. contracted by the U.S. Forest Service. Mr. Piechura was an employee with the Coronado National Forest. Their remains have been recovered from the accident site.

Often eyewitness accounts are wrong.

But, the Arizona Republic interviewed a woman who saw the aircraft from her home coming down at a “steep angle” and then “slam into the ground.” An hour later she and her husband drove to an area near the crash. They said Bureau of Land Management employees told them they they witnessed a wing fall off the plane in the air before it crashed.

We are aware of four other wildland fire related aircraft crashes in North America this year in a 46-day period, for a total of 7 fatalities:

In 2020 during a 49-day period that began July 7 there were six crashes of firefighting aircraft — three helicopters and three air tankers. In addition, three members of the crew of a C-130 from the U.S. died when their air tanker crashed January 23, 2020 while fighting a bushfire in New South Wales, Australia.

The article was edited to show that there were no reported serious injuries in the June 15 helicopter crash.

Crash of air attack aircraft in Arizona kills two aerial firefighters

14 miles northeast of Wikieup

This article was first published on Fire Aviation.

Two aerial firefighters were killed July 10 in the crash of an air attack aircraft associated with a wildfire in Arizona. It occurred on the Cedar Basin Fire which is 14 miles northeast of Wikieup, Arizona and 43 miles southeast of Kingman, Arizona.

Below is the statement released Saturday night July 10.

“The Bureau of Land Management is currently working with other local, state, and federal agencies to respond to a fatal aircraft accident associated with the Cedar Basin Fire near Wikieup, Arizona. The accident occurred around noon today (July 10) and involved an air attack aircraft performing aerial reconnaissance and command and control over the fire. Two crew members were on board and we are sad to report there were no survivors. We will provide additional information pending next of kin notification. Our hearts go out to the families of our brave wildland firefighters.”

The Cedar Basin Fire, a result of thunderstorms, was reported to dispatch July 9 after 6 p.m. That night it was not possible to get a good visual due to darkness. On July 10 a helicopter performed a reconnaissance and discovered an active fire. Later that night the fire had burned about 300 acres.

We send our sincere condolences to the families, friends, and co-workers of the two firefighters.

Map Cedar Basin Fire
Map showing the location of the Cedar Basin Fire at 2:54 p.m. MDT July 10, 2021.