December 1, 2010

In our last post, we were talking about the findings of the National Transportation Safety Board’s investigation into the 2008 helicopter crash that killed nine Oregon firefighters and two others. The NTSB laid the blame solidly at the door of the helicopter service company, citing in particular misinformation regarding the weight and weight restrictions of the craft. The company disagrees with the board’s conclusions about the accident.

When the helicopter took off that August in 2008, it weighed 19,008 pounds, well exceeding recommended weight for safe flight (just under 16,000 pounds) and 563 pounds over the maximum allowable weight. The pilot’s miscalculation led him to believe the craft weighed 17,361 pounds. The decision to take off is based on weight, as is altitude. Helicopters are designed to lift off vertically; extra weight, especially 1,600 pounds of extra weight, can keep it from doing so.

In this case, the helicopter was “low, slow and sluggish.” It did not make it far off the ground. Instead of climbing, it moved forward about 150 yards, clipping the treetops before it crashed. The four survivors escaped before the helicopter was consumed by fire.

The service company claims the NTSB ignored evidence, particularly that the weight reports were altered by one manager who acted “without the knowledge or consent” of the company’s senior management team. The company also cited a mechanical problem with the helicopter that caused the craft to lose power — in the company’s opinion, the primary cause of the accident.

The board was clear and firm in its condemnation of the company. The chair added that the company’s actions were so distressing to the board members that they have forwarded their findings to the Department of Transportation’s inspector general, asking that agency to investigate further and, possibly, to bring criminal charges against the company. News reports did not mention any civil actions under way or planned by the survivors or families of those killed in the crash.

Source: The Oregonian “NTSB Lambasts Carson Helicopters of Grants Pass in 2008 Crash That Killed 9 Firefighters” 12/7/10

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