Accident kills firefighting helicopter pilot in Oregon

August 25, 2020 | 4:24 a.m. PDT

White River Fire August pilot helicopter killed crash accident
White River Fire August 18, 2020. InciWeb.

The pilot of a helicopter was killed August 24 while assisting firefighters on the White River Fire in Oregon. According to the U.S. Forest Service the K-MAX helicopter was dropping water in rough terrain when the accident occurred.

Wasco County Sheriff’s Office and Forest Service air and ground resources responded immediately to the site. There will be an investigation into the accident, and the National Transportation Safety Board and the Federal Aviation Administration have been notified. The firefighter has not yet been identified.

The White River Fire has burned 1,102 acres of timber and light logging slash 11 miles southeast of Mt. Hood since it started from a lightning strike August 17. It is being suppressed by 304 personnel and a Type 2 incident management team led by Incident Commander Brian Goff.

We send out our sincere condolences to the family, friends, and co-workers of the pilot.

White River Fire August 24, 2020 Oregon helicopter accident
White River Fire August 24, 2020

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

Helicopter crashes while working on the Polles Fire in Arizona

(Updated at 8:18 p.m. MDT July 7, 2020)

Map helicopter crash Arizona Payson Polles Fire
Map showing heat detected on the Polles Fire by satellites at 2:06 a.m. MDT July 7, 2020.

Officials from the Tonto National Forest confirmed that a helicopter crashed today while working on the Polles Fire in central Arizona. The only person on board was the pilot, who was deceased. He was identified in a press conference as Bryan Boatman, 37, with Airwest Helicopters out of Glendale, Arizona. He leaves behind a wife and 8-year-old child.

The Chief of the Pine-Strawberry Fire District said the pilot’s wife arrived at the Payson Airport as the body was being retrieved from the accident scene.

The helicopter crashed north of the main fire in a remote area only accessible on foot or by helicopter while transporting supplies for hand crews. After the crash was reported to the fire’s Incident Commander at 12:22 p.m. Tuesday, a Sergeant with Sheriff’s office was transported to the scene via short haul, suspended on a rope under a helicopter. He began the process of the investigation and removing the pilot’s remains.

A Federal Aviation Administration spokesman said the UH-1H helicopter went down about 10 miles west of Payson.

A Temporary Flight Restriction (TFR) has been issued at the Payson airport due to the crash, Airport Coordinator Dennis Dueker said. All flights in the area will be grounded until the TFR is lifted.

As of Monday night the Polles Fire had burned 580 acres 11 miles west of Payson, Arizona.

The Southwest Area Type 1 Incident Management Team (IMT) #2 led by John Pierson was scheduled to assume command of the fire July 6 at 6 a.m.

Six hotshot crews and three other hand crews are working in conditions described by the incident management team as extreme. They have been working shifts late into the evening for the last few nights, spiked out in remote locations relying on helicopters to fly in their food, drinking water, and supplies.

The IMT said there are no current threats from the fire to the communities of Pine-Strawberry or Payson.

The fire started July 3 from lightning. It is only accessible by helicopter.

Polles Fire
Smoke from the Polles Fire. InciWeb photo posted July 6, 2020.

Our sincere condolences go out to the family and friends of the pilot, and the firefighters that were working on the Polles Fire.

Thanks and tips of the hat go out to Tom, Eric, and Kelly. Typos or errors, report them HERE.

Coulson aviation is adding Chinooks and Blackhawks to their helicopter fleet

(This was first published at FireAviation.com)

Britt Coulson blackhawk helicopter
Britt Coulson with one of their recently acquired Blackhawks.

The Vice President of Coulson Aviation describes the new Chinook and Blackhawk program they are undertaking with Unical. He also updates us on the firefighting aircraft they have working in Australia during the 2018-2019 bushfire season. It was filmed at the HAI Heli-Expo in Atlanta, March 5, 2019.

If you are having trouble viewing the video, you can see it on YouTube.

Many of the new and retrofitted firefighting helicopters are Firehawks

(This article was first published at FireAviation)

helicopters firehawk
New Los Angeles County FD Firehawks. Photo by LA County FD. March, 2018. At that time it still needed to swap out the landing gear and have the belly tank installed.

Firehawk helicopters are becoming more popular across the wildland fire services, especially in California.

A rather loose definition of a Firehawk is a Blackhawk, a Sikorsky UH-60 or S-70i, usually with an aftermarket 1,000-gallon external water tank for fighting fires, and a suction hose for refilling while hovering.

The earliest Firehawk that we are aware of was used in 1998 when Los Angeles County leased one with a belly tank from Sikorsky for about four months. (I’m sure someone will correct me if there’s an earlier occurrence.) Since then many of the newly acquired firefighting helicopters have been, or will be, Firehawks. CAL FIRE has signed contracts and expects to have 12 brand new converted S-70i ships within three years. Their first fully modified aircraft should arrive in June. Other examples of Firehawks include — Los Angeles County’s five (not all are fully modified yet), San Diego Fire Rescue has a one (but it is not yet fully modified), Ventura County has started converting three HH-60L Blackhawks into Firehawks, and Coulson is partnering with Unical to convert about 10 UH-60 Blackhawks. There are also other companies that have various configurations of Blackhawks with tanks.

As far as I know most of the above ships will have external water tanks, which require installing a longer landing gear to raise the ship, making room for the belly tank. Coulson, on the other hand, is installing a version of their removable RADS tank internally, and at least one company, Simplex, for example, has built another version of a removable internal tank. The company had it on display last year in Sacramento and at HAI Heli-Expo in Atlanta today.

 internal Blackhawk tank
Simplex internal Blackhawk tank.Seen at HAI Heli-Expo in Atlanta, March 5, 2019.
 internal Blackhawk tank
Seen at HAI Heli-Expo in Atlanta, March 5, 2019.

For the record, Sikorsky, the company that manufactures Blackhawks, does not support the use of an internal water tank in the ships. They are not worried about the floor being able to hold it, but are concerned that in the event of a hard landing the tank, especially when full, could pose a danger to the crew. A belly tank, their theory contends, would not threaten the crew as a projectile, but could crush under the aircraft, absorbing some of the energy — not unlike the crumple zone in the front of a well designed automobile.

Coulson to add up to 10 additional helicopters to their fleet

Will partner with Unical Air to acquire Boeing CH-47 and Sikorsky UH-60 Blackhawk aircraft for firefighting and other purposes

(This article was first published at Fire Aviation, March 1, 2019)

Coulson-Unical CU-47 helicopter CH-47
The engineering design for the water/retardant delivery system on the Coulson-Unical CU-47. Coulson image.

Coulson Aviation is expanding their aircraft fleet. Until a few weeks ago the company had four C-130 type fixed wing air tankers, one converted Boeing 737 air tanker (with another that is 60 percent complete), and a mixture of five S-61 and S-76 helicopters.

Today Coulson announced a new partnership with Unical Air, a new unit of the Unical Group of Companies. The organizations have joined forces to create a heavy lift helicopter joint venture company that will build and operate Boeing CH-47 and Sikorsky UH-60 Blackhawk aircraft for aerial firefighting and other markets. Coulson’s expertise in the operation of heavy lift and firefighting helicopters will mesh with Unical Air’s abilities in supply chain, and parts, plus aircraft maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) and component repair and overhaul (CRO).

“When we met Unical, our companies meshed very well,” Britt Coulson, Coulson Aviation’s vice president, said. “Since both are family owned and extremely passionate about what we do, it was a natural fit to work together. Others that have bought either of these types has struggled with serviceability and parts support and with our partnership we are confident that will not be an issue.”

The capabilities of the helicopters will include night-vision, IFR navigation, and hover filling.

Coulson-Unical CU-47 helicopter
The first Coulson-Unical CU-47 lands in a remote area east of Albuquerque February 24, 2019. Coulson photo.

At least some of the newly acquired CH-47s and UH-60s will be outfitted with RADS internal tanks. The basic design of the RADS was created by Aero Union decades ago and features steep slopes on the sides when space allows, to facilitate enough head pressure at the bottom to ensure quick and constant flow. The technology used will enable automated target drops for the night vision goggle firefighting program and will have the capability to adjust flow rates based on speed and altitude. A Coulson helicopter that has been certified in Australia for night drops has been used on a regular basis for the last several months during the country’s 2018-2019 bushfire season.

Coulson has engineered several different sizes of the tanks to enable them to be used in a variety of aircraft, including the C-130 and 737. The CU-60 will carry up to 1,000 USG, and the CU-47 will carry up to 3,000 USG.

The snorkels used for hover refilling will be a brand new Coulson design, using an electrically-powered pump which will retract into the belly allowing flight to and from the fire with no speed restrictions, along with the ability to taxi around airports or tanker bases.

Instead of the water or retardant flowing through a relatively small opening at the cargo hook, Coulson will modify the bellies of both the CH-47 and UH-60.

Coulson-Unical CU-60 helicopter UH-60
The engineering design for the water/retardant delivery system on the Coulson-Unical CU-60. Coulson image.

“We are cutting the lower skin and adding in structure between the frames, the same way we have done on the C-130 and B-737 to create the optimal, linear door opening”, Mr. Coulson said. “We are also engineering the tank to incorporate the hook which will allow us to longline with the tank installed.”

The helicopters will be type certified and FAA approved, and the models will be renamed.

“This partnership with Unical Aviation is the future of aerial firefighting, combining the best of both companies as we introduce the CU-60© and CU-47© Next Gen Helitankers,” stated CEO, Wayne Coulson, Coulson Aviation.

The helicopters will receive upgraded cockpits, featuring the Garmin G500H TXi synthetic vision displays and Coulson’s touch screen SMART Delivery System Controller for regulating the delivery of the water or retardant.

Coulson UH-60 cockpit
The concept for the cockpit of the CU-60. Coulson image.

Coulson-Unical will have a CU-60 and a CU-47 at the HAI Heli-Expo in Atlanta, Georgia, March 5 to 7. Both have been painted but have not yet received the internal tank modification. The two ships will be available this year with conventional water buckets. By 2020 the company expects to have 10 additional helicopters between the two types.

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.