August 6, 2008

Nine Firefighters Dead in Helicopter Crash

By Niesha Lofing and Christine Vovakes, The Sacramento Bee, Calif.

Aug. 6--Nine people are dead in the crash of a helicopter carrying firefighters, FAA officials reported this afternoon.

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.

The helicopter had picked up a group of firefighters about 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, said Ian Gregor, an FAA spokesman.

The helicopter was completely burned, he said.

Sharon Heywood, forest supervisor for Shasta-Trinity National Forest, said "We have confirmation that there are fatalities," but declined to say how many people were killed.

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

The pilot is at the UC 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 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.

The helicopter is owned by Carson Helicopters out of Grants Pass, Ore., officials said.

According to a Federal Aviation Administration 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.

Forest Service officials first learned of the accident at 7:45 p.m. Tuesday. They have not confirmed the number of fire personnel aboard the helicopter when it went down in rugged, remote terrain. It was being used as a fire transport helicopter, Forest Service spokesman Mike Odle said.

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

Junction City is on Highway 299W, approximately 9 miles west of Weaverville.

In July 2007, a 1968 Bell Model 205A-1 Rotorcraft helicopter crashed in the Klamath National Forest, killing the pilot. The helicopter, which was airlifting potable water to fire crews, was under contract with the U.S. Forest Service for fighting the lightning-caused Elk Complex fires in Siskiyou County.

In August 2006, a pilot and co-pilot died when their Sikorsky CH-54 helicopter crashed into the Klamath River near the town of Happy Camp. The pilots, who were part of firefighting efforts in the Marble Mountain Wilderness, worked for Heavy Lift Helicopters Inc. of Apple Valley, a San Bernardino County company under contract with the U.S. Forest Service.

Watch for updates.


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