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Incident Name: Titus Fire
Date: 08/04/06
Personnel: 2 lives lost
Agency/Organization: Heavy Lift Helicopters, Aviation International Rotors under contract to the US Forest Service
Position: aerial firefighters

Terry Wayne Jacobs, age 58, Pilot
Andrei Pantchenko, age 38, Co-Pilot

Pilot Jacobs and Co-Pilot Pantchenko were operating a Sikorsky CH-54A helicopter in support of fire fighting operations at the Titus fire, Klamath National Forest, near Happy Camp, California. The helicopter had been returned to service earlier in the day after having an engine replaced. After completing a series of tests, the helicopter was assigned to the Titus fire and conducted a number of water drops. After over 2 hours of work, the helicopter returned to its helibase for fueling. The unit departed base at 1912 hrs for another round of water drops. As the helicopter maneuvered near a water dip site, it experienced an in-flight separation of a tail rotor blade. A witness heard a bang, saw pieces fall from the rear of the helicopter, and observed a crash. Both crew members were killed. The cause of death for Pilot Jacobs was listed as multiple trauma and the cause of death for Co-Pilot Pantchenko was listed as drowning.

Terry Jacobs Terry Jacobs
Skycrane N6156U Skycrane N6156U
Skycrane near Independence Bridge Skycrane near Independence Bridge

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Accident Site (approximate)

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Reports, Documentation, Lessons Learned

  • Information from the NTSB, FAA, USFS, AAP and WFF Staff:
    • August 4, 2006 - Titus Fire Sky Crane
    • 2 killed: Terry Jacobs, Andrei Pantchenko
    • Operator: Heavy Lift Helicopters, Aviation International Rotors under contract to the US Forest Service
    • Type: CH-54A
    • crashed near Happy Camp, CA
    • FAA Tail #N6156U
    • NTSB # LAX06GA254
  • National Transportion Safety Board: Factual Report (101 K pdf)
  • National Transportion Safety Board: Probable Cause (html) | Probable Cause (232 K pdf)

    The fatigue failure of tail rotor blade spindle, which resulted in the separation of the blade and tail rotor gearbox.

  • National Transportion Safety Board: Full Narrative (html)
  • For additional information, consult the NTSB Lookup Utility Identification # LAX06GA254
  • Information on the Happy Camp Complex and Titus Fire: Happy Camp News
  • USFA Database: Terry Wayne Jacobs | Andrei Pantchenko

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Media Articles and Reports.

Two killed in Klamath River helicopter crash
From S. Oregon Mail Tribune: Link to Online Article
August 06, 2006
By Paul Fattig

HAPPY CAMP, Calif. The pilot and co-pilot of a Sikorsky helicopter were killed Friday evening when their aircraft plunged into the Klamath River.

Terry Wayne Jacobs, 48, of Wofford Heights, Calif., was identified Saturday afternoon as the pilot of the Heavy Lift Helicopter Inc. chopper out of Apple Valley, Calif., according to the Siskiyou County Sheriff's Department. The co-pilot's name was not released because his family lives outside the United States and had not been notified of the accident yet, sheriff's department officials reported.

The accident occurred while the aircraft was battling the Happy Camp complex wildfires in the Klamath National Forest some 10 miles south of Happy Camp, a Klamath River hamlet about 50 air miles southwest of Medford. The accident occurred near milepost 28.63 on Highway 96 near Happy Camp around 7:45 p.m. Friday, according to the Siskiyou County sheriff. A dive team from the department helped retrieve the bodies from the river Saturday. Autopsies were planned for early next week.

Smoke from the complex of fires drifted into the Rogue Valley Saturday and is expected to linger for a day or two.

U.S. Forest Service spokeswoman Jean Gilbertson said the helicopter was owned by a private company working under contract to the agency. No additional information about the crash would be given to the media until a National Transportation Board team completed its investigation, she said.

The helicopter crew was among the roughly 500 firefighters deployed to the wildfire complex sparked by a July 23 lightning storm. Because of the crash, no aircraft were used in fighting the fire on Saturday, officials said. However, ground crews continue to dig firelines and burn out areas around the main fire to stop the fire's advance.

The accident was a severe blow to firefighters already hampered by steep, rugged terrain. "In our small community, this is really devastating," said a weary firefighter who answered the telephone at the Happy Camp complex firefighting headquarters.

All but one of the 11 fires in the complex had been contained by firelines Saturday afternoon. The Titus fire, which had burned 2,843 acres in the Marble Mountain Wilderness, is only 25 percent contained.

In addition, firefighters are battling the Uncles complex in both the Marble Mountain and the Trinity Alps Wilderness section of the forest between the Klamath River and Interstate 5. That complex includes the 2,500-acre Rush fire, the 2,880-acre Hancock fire and the 1,915-acre Uncles fire.

The terrain is steep, rugged and rocky, said forest spokesman John Zapell. "The fire behavior is one of creeping along, the making short runs uphill," he said. "We are taking indirect suppression action because of the terrain.

"What we're doing is going in on ridges and putting in containment lines," he added, citing safety concerns for firefighters on the ground.

"These fires do have the potential to get quite a bit larger," he noted. With a chance of more lightning today, there is also the potential for more fires to spring up, he said. Because of concerns for public safety, forest officials have closed the Marble Mountains Wilderness area and some roads and campgrounds immediately outside the wilderness boundary.

The road closures are in an area potentially threatened by the Titus Fire, and are being used by vehicles and equipment assigned to the Happy Camp Complex. The closures will remain in effect until the fires are suppressed.

For more information about the closure or for other areas to hike and camp contact the Klamath National Forest headquarters in Yreka at 530-842-6131, or visit on the Web.
Reach reporter at 776-4496


Report determines equipment failure caused Calif. fire helicopter crash
By John Driscoll
Originally From the Eureka Times-Standard: Link to Online Article

Part of the tail rotor on a firefighting helicopter fell off moments before it crashed into the Klamath River outside Happy Camp, killing its two pilots, a preliminary report says.

The fatal crash of the Sikorsky CH-54A Skycrane chopper on Aug. 4 was caused by the failure of a spindle connected to the tail rotor gearbox, the National Transportation Safety Board report reads. The report does not point to any human errors being to blame for the malfunction.

The helicopter was flown to Happy Camp on July 29 to help fight the Happy Camp Complex fires, which now total 3,800 acres. Killed in the wreck were Terry "Jake" Jacobs, 48, of Kern County and 38-year-old Andrei Pantchenko of Oregon, both veteran pilots.

No one from the safety board returned repeated calls. After flying for two hours on Aug. 4, the helicopter returned to the base to refuel and was examined by mechanics. Then it left to begin a second round of firefighting. "The helicopter conducted one uneventful dip and water drop during the second cycle and was in the process of conducting its second dip when the accident occurred," the report reads.

The helicopter had filled its tanks with water from the Klamath River at the site near Independence Bridge several times that day. On its final run to get water, a witness heard a loud bang, and ran toward the river. When he reached a road next to the river, the report reads, he saw the helicopter flying toward the bridge. A large piece of equipment — later identified as the gear box — fell off the chopper, reads the report.

The helicopter's nose pitched sharply forward, and without the tail rotor to counter the torque of the main rotor, the fuselage spun around until it crashed, the report says.

The twin engines of the helicopter transfer power down a series of shafts connected by universal joints to the gear box at the tail. Each tail rotor blade is connected to the gear box by a spindle. In this case, the blade associated with the failed spindle has not been found, according to the report.

On the morning of the accident, the helicopter went through a series of maintenance tests after having an engine replaced the day before. It was cleared by mechanics with chopper owner Heavy Lift Helicopters of Apple Valley and a U.S. Forest Service helicopter manager.

The tail rotor hub was overhauled on Dec. 22, 2005. That included using an X-ray like technique to inspect the spindle, a part that can be reused. The fractured spindle was sent to the safety board's materials laboratory in Washington, D.C.

A military helicopter pilot and maintenance expert consulted by the Times-Standard said that the material failure probably happened without warning — until the loud bang. The crack in the spindle likely happened after the inspection, the expert said.

A helicopter can safely land after losing its tail rotor section, under certain conditions. The helicopter must be moving forward, possibly as fast as 100 mph. Or, if a tail rotor is lost at a hover, the engine can be idled and the craft settled vertically. But that can be exceptionally difficult in tight conditions like a river canyon, even for experienced pilots.

The Sikorsky CH-65A is considered a workhorse helicopter that first saw military duty in the 1960s. The wrecked chopper was built in 1966, and had been rebuilt and redesigned for firefighting by Heavy Lift Helicopters. They can carry up to 750 gallons of water, making them valued by firefighting efforts around the world.

Marty Pociask, communications director and editor for Helicopter Association International, said both the CH-54A and Heavy Lift Helicopters have a solid reputation. Flying wildfire duty is unpredictable, and pilots and equipment are constantly operating in less than ideal conditions, Pociask said.

"These guys go out there and risk their lives and do a yeoman's job," Pociask said. Pociask and others said a final determination by the transportation safety board could take a year or more.

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Photos, Videos, & Tributes

  • From a press release: Jacobs is survived by his finance Lucette Evans and his sister Sandra Santrock. He was 48-years old, from Wofford Heights in Kern County California and served two tours in Vietnam. Andrei Pantchenko was 38-years old and from Burns, Oregon. He was originally from Russia.
  • Photos of the Happy Camp Complex (2006) including Titus Fire from Northern Arizona Type 2 Incident Management Team (NAZ Team); these fires burned in very steep and rugged the terrain.
  • Tribute from SOS Forests: In Memorium

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Contributors to this article: Mike Bradley

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