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Monday, September 1, 2008

Rotorcraft Report: NTSB Probes S-61 Crash That Killed Nine on Fire Crew

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U.S. officials investigating the Aug. 5 crash of a Carson Helicopters S-61N that killed nine firefighters battling California wildfires are examining the aircraft’s engines and voice recorders for clues to the cause of the accident. The Fire King, a variant of the S-61 developed by Carson, crashed in the Shasta-Trinity Forest near Weaverville, Calif. Four of the 13 people on board survived.

A 10-member team led by the National Transportation Safety Board traveled to Portland, Ore. in mid-August to examine the aircraft’s engines. The investigation team included the U.S. Forest Service, Sikorsky Aircraft and engine maker General Electric.

The helicopter’s cockpit voice recorder arrived at NTSB headquarters in Washington Aug. 9. Specialists there found the CVR’s solid-state chips had been damaged by heat from the post-crash fire. They judged the best way to try to extract information without further damaging the chips would be to use the facilities of the U.K.-based manufacturer, Penny and Giles. The recorder was to be taken to England by an NTSB investigator in late August.

Firefighters who witnessed the accident consistently have told the NTSB the helicopter lifted off slower than they would have expected before striking trees and crashing more than 100 yd from the lift off point, the NTSB said. The captain of the flight had about 20,000 hr of total flight time and the first officer had 3,000 hr of civilian flight time.

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