Former VP of Carson Helicopters sentenced to 12 years in prison

Today 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.

In sentencing Mr. Methey, Ann Aiken, a federal judge for the United States District Court for the District of Oregon, said he violated every oath he ever took when he filed documents to win a $51 million U.S. Forest Service contract.

Metheny has until August 17 to report to federal prison. After his 12 years and 7 months prison sentence, he will be under supervised probation for an additional three years

He was accused of falsifying performance charts and the weights of helicopters his company had under contract to the U.S. Forest Service for supporting wildland fire operations. As of a result of his fraud, a Carson helicopter crashed while trying to lift off with too much weight from a remote helispot on the Iron 44 Fire (or Iron Complex) on the Shasta-Trinity National Forest near Weaverville, California in 2008. Nine people were killed, including the pilot-in-command, a U.S. Forest Service check pilot, and seven firefighters. The copilot and three firefighters were seriously injured.

Mr. Metheny went to great lengths after the crash to attempt to conceal the fraud. When he knew that investigators would be examining the company’s operations, he directed other employees to remove weight from other similar helicopters, including taking off a fuel cell and replacing a very heavy battery with an empty shell of a battery. Some of the employees refused to participate in that deception, with one explaining that he was done lying about the helicopter’s weight.

Defense lawyer Steven Myers argued that the helicopter pilot could have avoided the crash by doing a standard maneuver on takeoff, where the pilot hovers and checks his gauges.

Aiken dismissed that argument, noting her father had flown helicopters in the Korean War, crashing 13 times. “Whether the gauges were right or not, the pilot didn’t have the right information,” Aiken told Metheny.

The Forest Service awarded contracts to Carson, including option years, amounting to over $51,000,000. Carson received $18,831,891.12 prior to the FS canceling the contracts.

The sentencing hearing for Levi Phillips, 45, the former maintenance chief of Carson Helicopters, occurred later the same day. He agreed to cooperate with authorities in the case against Mr. Metheny and pleaded guilty to a single charge of fraud. He was sentenced to 25 months in prison to be followed by 3 years of supervised probation.

The sentencing report on Mr. Metheny prepared by the U.S. Attorney’s office recommended 188 months (15 years and 8 months) of prison time. Below are excerpts from the report, which was dated March 20, 2015:

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I. FOREST SERVICE WEIGHING OF HELICOPTERS

As a result of the crash of N612AZ, the FS conducted a contract compliance inspection on Carson’s helicopters, eventually bringing about the weighing of each helicopter. Prior to the FS weighing, some of the aircraft were weighed by Carson in Grants Pass. They were found to weigh more than indicated by their W&B documents with one pilot characterizing the overage as considerable..

1. Concealing the Fraud

Metheny and Phillips devised various schemes in an attempt to prevent the FS from discovering the aircraft’s true weights. Metheny talked to Phillips about removing equipment from the helicopter (e.g., auxiliary battery, bifilar weights, and heater) to reduce the aircraft’s weight without recording its removal on the helicopter’s Chart C as well as removing the inner components from the battery and putting the battery’s empty shell back in the aircraft.

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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.