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Incident Name: originally called Iron 44 (Iron Complex, Buckhorn Fire), ultimately named Panther Fire incident (Panther Creek flows into the New River in that area)
Date: August 5, 2008
Personnel: 9 lives lost (see below)
Age: varies
Agency/Organization: Carson Helicopters, Inc (Grants Pass, OR) provided the helicopter and pilot; Grayback Forestry, Inc (Merlin, OR) provided the handcrew; both working for the US Forest Service along with a Forest Service Check Pilot.
Position: varies

Summary: On August 5th, 2008 A helicopter crashed on the Iron Complex in a remote wooded area in the Trinity Alps Wilderness of the Shasta-Trinity National Forest about 35 miles northwest of Redding, California. The Sikorsky S-61N (N612AZ) (photo credit H. Spurting), owned by Carson Helicopters and under contract to the U.S. Forest Service, crashed at about 7:30 p.m. PDT. The helicopter had completed 2 trips to return firefighting crews to a safer location and had made a refueling stop. After it refueled, it returned for its third load of passengers. During departure, the helicopter experienced a loss of power to the main rotor during takeoff initial climb, and subsequently impacted trees and terrain. The aircraft came to rest on its left side. A post-crash fire consumed the aircraft. Nine firefighters, including two pilots and 8 members of a firefighting handcrew died in the crash and a pilot and 3 firefighters were severely injured. The National Transportation Safety Board investigated.

Of the 4 seriously injured, 3 are Grayback Forestry, Inc. employees and the fourth worked for Carson Helicopters, Inc.; all have recovered from their physical injuries.

Nine Wildland Firefighters were lost in the Line of Duty

Grayback Forestry, Inc., 7 employees
Steven Caleb Renno's mom: "They Held the Line"

Shawn Blazer, 30, from Medford, Oregon
Scott Charlson, 25, from Phoenix, Oregon
Edrik Gomez, 19, from Ashland, Oregon
Matt Hammer, 23, from Grants Pass, Oregon
Steven Caleb Renno, 21, from Cave Junction, Oregon
Bryan Rich, 29, from Medford, Oregon
David Steele, 19, from Ashland, Oregon

Carson Helicopters, Inc. employee
Roark Schwanenberg, 54, from Lostine, Oregon – Pilot

USFS Inspector Pilot
Jim Ramage, 64, from Redding, California - USFS Inspector Pilot, Shasta Trinity National Forest

Photos courtesy of Grayback Forestry, Carson Helicopters, USFS and families.

 

Shawn Blazer Shawn Blazer
Scott Charlson Scott Charlson
Edrik Gomez Edrik Gomez
Matt Hammer Matt Hammer
Caleb Renno Caleb Renno
 
Bryan Rich Bryan Rich
David Steele David Steele
Roark Schwanenberg Roark Schwanenberg
James Rammage James Rammage

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Maps

Accident Location (also USNG: 10T EK 5926 8553)

  • Other Maps and Diagrams
Iron 44 IR Map Iron 44 IR Map
  • Above: Iron Complex Map 8/5/08 Buckhorn Fire is Branch III, Division E. Accident Site is northernmost finger. Note large numbers of fires being fought following the lightning busts in northern California in June of '08. Article about the Lightning Event (873 K pdf file) by Mark A. Burger, WFO Eureka, California
  • Below are 4 maps from NTSB docket: Location map, Elevation map, map of Helispot 44 in relation to final helicopter resting place and Witness Location photo
Buckhorn Location Map Buckhorn Location Map
Elevation Map Elevation Map
Helispot Blue; Final Resting Place Red Helispot Blue; Final Resting Place Red
Witness Locations from NTSB Witness Locations from NTSB

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Reports, Documentation, Lessons Learned

  • Shasta Trinity National Forest Press Release 8/6/08 (24 hours)
  • FS Today Announcement of Helicopter Crash
  • Concise Information from the NTSB, FAA, USFS, AAP, and research by the WLF Staff:
    • August 5, 2008 - Iron 44 helicopter accident
    • 7 killed: Shawn Blazer, Scott Charlson, Matt Hammer, Edrik Gomez, Steven Caleb Renno, Bryan Rich, David Steele, Roark Schwanenberg, Jim Ramage, 3 were critically injured
    • Operator: Carson Helicopters, Inc. (CHI) of Grants Pass, Oregon
    • Type: Sikorsky S-61N
    • impacted trees then mountainous terrain at 6,000 feet in the Trinity Alps Wilderness CA (near Weaverville, CA)
    • Registration tail number: N612AZ
    • NTSB # LAX08PA259
  • NTSB Docket as of 10/7/10, download particular documents, maps and photos
  • National Transportation Safety Board: Probable Cause (html) | Probable Cause (26 K pdf)

    The National Transportation Safety Board determines the probable cause(s) of this ACC as follows:

    The following actions by Carson Helicopters: 1) the intentional understatement of the helicopter's empty weight, 2) the alteration of the power available chart to exaggerate the helicopter's lift capability, and 3) the practice of using unapproved above-minimum specification torque in performance calculations that, collectively, resulted in the pilots relying on performance calculations that significantly overestimated the helicopter's load-carrying capacity and did not provide an adequate performance margin for a successful takeoff; and insufficient oversight by the U.S. Forest Service and the Federal Aviation Administration.

    Contributing to the accident was the failure of the flight crewmembers to address the fact that the helicopter had approached its maximum performance capability on their two prior departures from the accident site because they were accustomed to operating at the limit of the helicopter’s performance.

    Contributing to the fatalities were the immediate, intense fire that resulted from the spillage of fuel upon impact from the fuel tanks that were not crash resistant, the separation from the floor of the cabin seats that were not crash resistant, and the use of an inappropriate release mechanism on the cabin seat restraints.

  • NTSB Full Narrative (html)
  • National Transportation Safety Board: Factual Report (74 K pdf)
  • For additional information about this crash, consult the NTSB Query Webpage: Identification # LAX08PA259
  • USFA Memorial Database: Shawn P. Blazer | Scott A. Charlson | Matt A. Hammer | Edrik J. Gomez | Steven Caleb Renno | Bryan J. Rich | David E. Steele | Roark Schwanenberg | Jim Ramage
  • Interagency Aviation Training module - iat.gov - was presented in 2009. It was still preliminary at the time presented. It's approximately 8 min long and runs as a flash audio/video: Accident Review '09 Update  The training module is primarily an audio summary of the incident for the purposes of aviation safety training. "Slides" provide the visual text, utilizing Flash.

    The NTSB Investigation has since been completed. Probable cause has been determined, as noted in the links and text above.

  • Two More Chains Fall Issue, 2012: Wheels, Wings, and Rotors. Getting there and getting back. It's out most dangerous activity. How come? (1,649 K pdf)
  • Crash Site from NTSB docket
crash site crash site

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WLF Links:

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Media Articles and Reports.

Iron 44 Memorial Service Iron 44 Memorial Service
  • I Saw You Up on the Mountain Poem

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Photos, Videos, & Tributes

Firecamp Tribute:

Iron 44 Tribute Boards Iron 44 Tribute Boards
 
Grayback Iron 44 logo Grayback Iron 44 logo
Shawn Blazer Shawn Blazer
Scott Charleson Scott Charleson
Edrik Gomez Edrik Gomez
 
Matt Hammer Tribute Matt Hammer Tribute
Caleb Renno Caleb Renno
Bryan Rich Bryan Rich
Steel Tribute Steel Tribute
Grayback Iron 44 logo Grayback Iron 44 logo
 
Carsion Helicopters Carsion Helicopters
Roark Schwanenberg Roark Schwanenberg
 
FS Shield FS Shield
Jim Ramage Jim Ramage

 

Going Home, Weaverville CA Tribute, compliments of USFS
Going Home Going Home
Weaverville CA Weaverville CA
Weaverville Field CA Weaverville Field CA
Weaverville CA Tribute Weaverville CA Tribute

Jim Rammage Celebration of Life

Jim Rammage Celebration of Life Jim Rammage Celebration of Life

Junction City Memorial

text Junction City Memorial Iron 44 text Junction City Memorial Iron 44

Junction City Memorial Iron 44 Junction City Memorial Iron 44

Junction City Memory Poster Junction City Memory Poster

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Contributors to this article: Scott Roberts, Mellie, David Steele's family, Wildland Firefighter Foundation, Debbie Miley, Sharon Heywood, Mike Wheelock, John Miller, Dennis Hulbert, Dave Patterson, and all who worked to provide support to families and friends of the fallen

WFF Boots & Wreath logo. Please support the Wildland Firefighter Foundation