A mother’s reaction to the criminal charges against the former Carson Helicopters employees

The mother of one of the firefighters killed in the crash of the Carson-owned helicopter has been following very closely the NTSB and criminal investigations into the crash that killed her son, Scott Charlson, six other firefighters, and two air crew members. Both investigations agreed that Carson Helicopters intentionally falsified documents about the performance of their helicopters which led the U.S. Forest Service and the flight crew to erroneously believe the Sikorsky S-61N could carry the load of firefighters when it attempted to lift off from a helispot on the Iron 44 Fire in northern California in 2008. The helicopter crashed and burned as it struggled to become airborne, killing nine people.

Last week a federal grand jury in Medford, Oregon indicted Steven Metheny, 42, former Vice President of Carson Helicopters, and Levi Phillips, 45, the former maintenance chief of the company, for charges which could earn them 20 or more years in federal prison if convicted.

Below is the reaction of Scott’s mother, Nina Charlson, to the indictments:


“I am very thankful the criminal investigation was pursued. While it does not bring our loved ones back or change the heartache and emotional torture surviving firefighters and families have had to endure the past 4 ½ years it does confirm some of the things we have been told since the crash.

Besides the sentences the Federal Government will hand out I would like for these two men, Steve Methany and Levi Phillips to sit before the family and friends (one family at a time) of Shawn Blazer, Scott Charlson, Matt Hammer, David Steele, Caleb Renno, Edrick Gomez, Bryan Rich, Roark Schwanenberg and Jim Ramage and hear how their lives have changed since 7:45 p.m. August 5, 2008. I would like for them to sit before Bill Coultas, Mike Brown, Jon Frohreich and Rick Schroeder and their families and hear how their lives changed that night. I would like them to sit before the firefighters that were on the mountain at the time of the crash and listen how their lives changed that night. I would like for them to sit before Grayback Forestry, US Forest Service, Cal-Fire and the entire firefighter brotherhood and hear what they have to say about that fateful night.

We were told this crash was preventable and predictable on many levels and sadly we have found that to be true. Initially when I was told about the crash – foul play was not what came to my mind. Accidents happen. But this was no accident and it complicates the grief we are experiencing.

Nothing that takes place in the future can bring our loved ones back to us or stop the emotional torment that is present in so many minds at this very moment because of the criminal acts these two men committed over and over again – even after the crash. No remorse – it was all about them, their greed and their life.

Several families of the fallen firefighters have determined to take as many steps as necessary to send a message to anyone in the future who may be driven by greed or glory. We will remind them of the bottom line – Our sons, fathers and husbands lives. We will do whatever it takes to help protect lives and families in the future. In Dec. of 2011 several families of the fallen traveled back to Washington DC to attend a Public Aircraft Forum hosted by the NTSB. There were very powerful worldwide leaders in the Public Aircraft world that were present. We were thanked by many of them for being there because we gave them a visual of what their good or poor decisions can do. It is not easy for us to make these trips financially or emotionally but if we can influence decisions to save future lives we will continue in the honor of our loved ones who paid the ultimate price.”

Australian football team evacuated ahead of advancing bushfire

Gippsland Power Football Club
Gippsland Power Football Club, waiting to be evacuated near Mount Feathertop

An Australian rules football team had to be evacuated by helicopters when they found themselves out ahead of an advancing bushfire in Victoria near Mount Feathertop.

According to the Border Mail, 36 members of the Gippsland Power Football team were training at high altitude and had no choice but to be flown out by helicopters when a bushfre approached their location. They were participating in a preseason training camp at Mount Feathertop, which is 6,300 feet (1,922 M) above sea level.

The fire that threatened the Gippsland Power Football Club
The fire that threatened the Gippsland Power Football Club. Check out what appears to be flames hundreds of feet above the ground, and a spot fire quite some distance in front of the fire.

Here is an excerpt from an article at the Border Mail:

…[Team doctor Wayne] Thompson said he and the team were on the 22 kilometre Razorback Trail up the mountain and as they started climbing, smoke started getting thicker.

“There was just smoke and all of a sudden the smoke got a bit thicker and then we could see flames,” Mr Thompson said.

Flames were about four kilometres away and with mobile coverage, they were able to keep in contact with emergency services while a helicopter hovered overhead monitoring the fire.

About 3.30pm and with flames only 100 metres away, a bigger helicopter was bought in to airlift 15 people at a time from a track between Federation Hut and Mount Feathertop.

They were taken to Hotham Village along with other hikers that had been rescued.

Mr Thompson said constant contact with emergency services kept any panic at bay.

All of these photos are from the football club’s Facebook page.

Gippsland Power Football Club

Gippsland Power Football Club evacuates in front of a bushfire
A Coulson helicopter, a Sikorsky S-61N, prepares to evacuate the Gippsland Power Football Club

I have to admit, I had to do a little research to find out what Australian rules football is all about. Apparently they use a ball that appears similar to the American football used in the United States, but the game resembles soccer (football in Europe) more than American football. Here’s more from Wikipedia:

Australian Rules Football

Video case study – Deer Park Fire serious injury complicated by helicopter incident

Deer Park Fire, patient on litter
An injured firefighter is moved using a “conveyor belt” technique on the Deer Park Fire. Screen grab from the video.

In August of 2010 Wildfire Today covered the Facilitated Learning Analysis about a serious injury complicated by a helicopter incident that occurred on the Deer Park Fire on the Sawtooth National Forest in central Idaho.

On that fire a member of the Flathead Hotshots suffered a broken femur caused by a rolling boulder. The initial treatment and extraction was complex and became an incident within an incident. A Life Flight helicopter that was going to fly him out landed on the edge of a small helispot and tipped back, resting on its enclosed tail rotor, in danger of sliding down a steep slope. This put the helicopter and the helispot out of commission — thus becoming an incident within an incident, within an incident.

Deer Park Fire, tipping helicopter
The Life Flight helicopter on the Deer Park Fire, after landing, and in danger of sliding down a steep slope. Screen grab from the video.

The fire overhead, the Flathead Hotshots, and some smokejumpers on the fire organized to deal effectively with these three incidents — the fire, the medical emergency, and the aviation incident, and the successful results became a case study that firefighters can learn from.

The National Interagency Fire Center produced a video which features three of the firefighters involved in the incident, plus a telephone interview with the injured hotshot. The video includes a lot of photographs and video shot by firefighters during the incident. It is very well done and is worth 20 minutes of your time.

The Flathead Hotshots have been mentioned at least two other times on Wildfire Today. In 2008 several members of the crew were struck by lightning. And last August they turned down an assignment on the Steep Corner Fire near Orofino, Idaho because of unresolved safety issues, including falling snags. The next day Anne Veseth, a 20-year-old firefighter from Moscow, Idaho working on the fire was killed by a falling tree.

Three wildfire aviation articles at Fire Aviation

Minden's Tanker 48 dropping on the Fern Lake Fire. Photo by Paul Filmer
Minden’s Tanker 48 dropping on the Fern Lake Fire. Photo by Paul Filmer

There are three new articles at Fire Aviation that you should check out:

1. Paul Filmer took some excellent photos of an air tanker and some helicopters working on the Fern Lake Fire in Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado. The one above is a sample.

2. “Elvis is back in the building”, according to Peter Ryan, the Deputy Premier of Victoria. He was referring to one of the Sikorsky Air-Crane helicopters that are beginning their contracts down under for Australia’s bushfire season, along with other firefighting aircraft.

3. Erickson Air-Crane has bought back an Air-Crane helicopter that it sold two years ago to a power company in California.

More firefighters arriving to fight Fern Lake Fire

Fern Lake Fire November 27, 2012
Fern Lake Fire, November 27, 2012. Photo by Dennis Geving

An additional squad of smokejumpers has been ordered to supplement the forces working on the Fern Lake Fire in Rocky Mountain National Park eight miles west of Estes Park, Colorado.

Due to the steep terrain and hazardous trees, firefighters are only able to attack the fire in areas that provide an adequate margin of safety. Their objective is to keep the fire on the north side of the Spruce Creek Drainage. Much of the recent action has taken place in that area where spot fires across the creek are being suppressed with the assistance of Helitanker 715. Two 5,000-gallon portable water tanks have been set up in Upper Beaver Meadows from which the helitanker is drafting water. Local fire departments are hauling water to keep the tanks full.

When the additional smokejumpers arrive the 1,488-acre fire will have 60 personnel assigned.

Fire on the helibase

Fire on the helibase
Boeing Vertol. Photo from the report.

A lessons learned report has been issued for an incident within an incident. As a large Type 1 helicopter was idling and about to take off from the helibase at a large fire, a grass fire started directly under the aircraft. The report does not provide the location or the name of the fire, but the document was issued by the US Forest Service’s Northern Region. Below is a summary — the entire report with recommendations for preventing future fires — and putting them out after they start — can be found HERE.


On Sept 10th 2012 around 10:00 a Boeing Vertol helicopter was dispatched to work on the fire. The helicopter was located on Pad 7 at the air strip helibase. The aircraft had just started up and the mechanics were doing the standard bucket checks and remote long line hook checks. The helicopter was running at flight idle and about ready to depart when all of a sudden there was a fire under the cargo hook. The mechanics and helicopter manager signaled for the helicopter to take off right away as the flight deck was on fire. There was very dry grass where the helicopter was parked and it appeared that when the pilots did the hook check there was either a spark from the long line or a static discharge that ignited the dry grass under the helicopter.

Fuel truck at helibase
Fuel truck parked at the helibase

The rotor wash from the helicopter blew the fire in several different directions. One of the mechanics grabbed the closest fire extinguisher and put the fire out around the equipment trailer while the helicopter manager screamed into the radio FIRE ON THE FLIGHT DECK, FIRE ON THE FLIGHT DECK on the helibase deck frequency. The helicopter manager went to grab the second fire extinguisher and realized it was in the service van so instead grabbed a fire shovel and started to throw dirt on the fire to get the fire out from under the fuel truck. The manager was successful on the attempt as the grass had flattened down from driving on it. At that point the crash rescue vehicle showed up and deployed their hard line attacking the west flank of the grass fire that was around 200 by 300 feet and spreading in several directions. The helicopter then returned with a bucket of water and dropped around the vehicles on the east flank of the fire. This saved the vehicles and stopped the spread of the fire to the south. All three helicopter mechanics at this point had grabbed shovels and were working on the east flank of the fire that was working its way towards the highway, while the crash rescue crew attacked the west flank of the fire. Several other people and engines show up at this point and continued to attack the fire. The helibase radio operator’s instructed several other helicopters to launch with their buckets. The Vertol returned with another bucket of water and continued to aid the firefighters.