Copter pilots walk away from ‘hard landing’

 Copter pilots walk away from ‘hard landing’

18 July 2009

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USA — A Sikorsky helicopter working on the Backbone Fire on Friday afternoon had a “hard landing,” hitting the ground and tumbling onto its side.

The Sikorsky S-61 chopper was at a “heliwell,” a portable plastic reservoir used to refill helicopters with water to drop on wildfires, said Jim Mackensen, spokesman for the U.S. Forest Service. The helicopter has a snorkel on its side used to suck water out of the reservoir.

Mackensen said there were no reports of fire in the crash and both pilots on board walked away from the crash site deep in the Trinity Alps Wilderness.

“This is quite remote,” Mackensen said.

The closest town to the crash is Forks of Salmon, he said.

One of the pilots was flown to a local hospital for evaluation while the other was being evaluated at the site, according to a Forest Service news release.

The names of the pilots were not immediately available.

The crash comes almost a year after a fatal helicopter crash, also of a private S-61, working the Iron Complex of fires in the Trinity Alps.

On Aug. 5, a helicopter crashed during takeoff after picking up a crew of contract firefighters and caught fire. The crash killed nine aboard the helicopter, including one of the pilots, and injured four others. That helicopter was owned by Carson Helicopters, a Pennsylvania company with a West Coast office in Grants Pass, Ore.

A preliminary investigative report by the National Transportation Safety Board released about two weeks after the crash determined that the helicopter had lost power after takeoff, struck trees and crashed. Officials said a full report would likely be released a year after the crash.

The helicopter in Friday’s incident was working on the Backbone Fire at the edge of Klamath National Forest. Sparked by lightning on July 1, the fire had charred more than 6,300 acres by Friday. Burning on a small portion of the Klamath, the fire is mostly moving through forest in the Shasta-Trinity and Six Rivers national forests.

Forest Service spokeswoman Robin Cole said Friday that the fire should be contained by this Friday. Earlier predictions had the expected date of containment on Aug. 30.

The helicopter is owned by Croman Corp. and is under contract to the Forest Service, Mackensen said. An investigation team has been ordered.

A man who answered the phone for Croman Corp. at its headquarters in White City, Ore., said he did not have information yet about the crash.

Ian Gregor, a spokesman for the Federal Aviation Administration, said the hard landing was a “minor” crash. While the NTSB will be investigating the crash, he said the FAA likely won’t.

Gregor said the helicopter had been hauling water to drop on the Backbone Fire and was coming down to land when the crash occurred.

FAA records show the helicopter was built in 1965 and was considered a SH-3H, a heavy helicopter once used by the U.S. Navy and known as the Sea King. Civil versions of the helicopter are known as the S-61.

“This is an old military helicopter, I believe, that has been adapted to be used as a firefighting helicopter,” Gregor said.

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