Nine dead in bushfire chopper crash in California California

Nine dead in bushfire chopper crash in California California

7 August 2008

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USA — Nine people aboard a helicoter rushing firefighters to bushfires in California were killed when the machine crashed.

Four other people on board the Sikorsky S-61 military-style helicopter suffered burns in the crash, which was near the north end of the Buckhorn Fire, about 15 miles northwest of Junction City in Trinity County, California.

The helicopter was taking off when it crashed, officials said.

The helicopter had picked up a group of firefighters and was completely burned in the crash, he said.

The cause of the crash is still uncertain, said Bob Madden, spokesman for Carson Helicopter Services of Grants Pass, Oregon, owner of the aircraft.

“We’ve heard both – they were taking off to take people back to base camp, or they were dropping someone off.”

The helicopter caught on fire after hitting the ground, he added.

“Apparently the aircraft came down and impacted the terrain and then rolled down the mountain and it was after continuing a roll down the mountain and the aircraft took fire,” he added.

The 30-year-old helicopter, a Sikorsky S-61, was originally made in Connecticut and upgraded three years ago, Madden said, adding that it’s not military surplus and has been used in firefighting for 10 years.

“We have 12 aircraft under contract to the U.S. Fire Service,” he said. “We’re probably the largest operator of fire-fighting helicopters – we fight fires here, Canada, Mexico and Australia.”

The four other people on board are recovering from their injuries at area hospitals.

The pilot is at the University of California Davis Regional Burn Center and is listed in serious condition. Two other people also are at the burn center, one in critical condition, the other in serious condition, officials said.

One person remains at Mercy Medical Center in Redding, Calif., and is in serious but stable condition.

Forest Service officials said that the people on board the aircraft were contracted firefighters with Greyback Forestry, headquartered in Merlin, Ore.

According to a FAA report, the Sikorsky S-61 was transporting firefighters 38 miles from Redding when it crashed under “unknown circumstances.”

The helicopter was assigned to the Iron Complex in the Shasta-Trinity National Forest and was at the north end of the Buckhorn Fire, about 15 miles northwest of Junction City, when it crashed, a U. S. Forest Service spokesman said.

A U.S. Forest Service Accident Investigation Team was responding to the scene Wednesday.

The Buckhorn fire, which is partially burning in the Trinity Alps Wilderness, has consumed 18,551 acres and is 25 percent contained, according to online fire information.

The fire is part of the Iron Complex, a series of fires that have scorched 86,366 acres in the Shasta-Trinity National Forest.

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