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:
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.