USA — As dusk approached, the Sikorsky helicopter touched down near the front lines of the Iron Complex forest fire burning in northern California’s Trinity Alps.
Fire bosses had decided to pull crews off the front lines for safety’s sake. Ten firefighters from Oregon trundled on board the Sikorsky to get a lift back to camp with the pilot, co-pilot and a Forest Service employee.
That was Tuesday, Aug. 5, 2008.
Next Tuesday, more than two years after the helicopter’s engine lost power moments after takeoff and tumbled to earth in a ball of flames, the families of those young men who had spent their summer toiling in dust and heat to pay their way through college or just earn a good living in rural Oregon will hear the final report on their lost loved one’s last moments – and what the government’s investigators think can be done, if anything, to prevent similar tragedies in the future.
Nine of the 13 men aboard the Forest Service-contracted Carson Helicopters Sikorsky S-61N helicopter (N612AZ) died, including seven firefighters from Oregon:
Steven Renno, 22, of Cave Junction, Ore.
Shawn Blazer, 30, from Medford, Ore.
Matthew Hammer, 23, from Grants Pass, Ore.
Edrik Gomez, 19, from Ashland, Ore.
Bryan Rich, 29, from Medford, Ore.
David Steele, 19, from Ashland, Ore.
Scott Charlson, 25, of Eugene, Ore.
The crash also killed pilot Roark Schwanenberg and U.S. Forest Service employee Jim Ramage, who was assigned to the agency’s fire and aviation division.
Four people survived the crash: Firefighters Michael Brown, then 20; Jonathan Frohreich, then 18; and Rich Schroeder, then 42. Co-pilot Bill Coultas, then 44, also survived.
Only one item on Tuesday’s agenda
The National Transportation Safety Board will hold a public board meeting on Tuesday, Dec. 7, 2010, at 9:30 a.m., in Washington, D.C.
There is only one item on the agenda:
“On August 5, 2008, a Sikorsky S-61N helicopter (N612AZ), impacted trees and terrain during the initial climb after takeoff, located at an elevation of about 6,000 feet in mountainous terrain near Weaverville, California. Impact forces and a post-crash fire destroyed the helicopter, which was being operated by the U.S. Forest Service as a public flight to transport firefighters and was contracted with Carson Helicopters, Inc. As a result of this accident, nine occupants were fatally injured and four were seriously injured.”