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Incident Name:  Middle Fire, Angeles National Forest
Date:  July 24, 1977, 2230 hours
Personnel:  Thomas Grady
Age:  32
Agency/Organization:  pilot for LA County Fire, under contract with the USFS, flying a Bell 205 helicopter owned by Arizona Helicopters
Position: pilot 

Summary: On the night of July 24, 1977, a Los Angeles County Fire helicopter (LACO 14, a Bell 205A-1) and the USFS Rose Valley helicopter (H-29, A Bell 212) collided mid-air while inbound to the Mill Creek Heliport on the Angeles National Forest. At the time of the crash, both helicopters were involved in night firefighting activities, dropping water on the Middle Fire and were under contract with the United States Forest Service. Pilots of both helicopters were operating with Night Vision Goggles (NVG). Radio frequencies were saturated, and the pilots had trouble communicating with the helibase manager. The County helicopter (a Bell 205A-1) was piloted by Thomas Grady and Theodore Hellmers, both employees of the Los Angeles County Fire Department. The helicopters collided while being maneuvered to land. Grady was killed in the collision and Hellmers suffered severe injuries. (Litigation went on for years.) The two pilots of the Forest Service helicopter (a Bell 212) were also injured but not so severely. The Middle Fire was 3800 acres.

FS Contract Helicopter FS Contract Helicopter

LAC Helicopter in center, FS Contract Helicopter upper right LAC Helicopter in center, FS Contract Helicopter upper right


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Location of accident: "final approach, approximately 75 yards from the Mill Creek Heliport" 

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Reports, Documentation, Lessons Learned

  • Forest Service Investigations - Fatal Aviation Accident History (1979-2000): Pages 45 - 48 for this incident (607 K pdf) | Entire History (download 4.72 MB pdf)
  • Concise Information from the USFS Report, NTSB, FAA, AAP, and research by the WLF Staff:
    • July 24, 1977 - LACO 14
    • 1 killed: Thomas Grady
    • LA County Fire, under contract with the USFS, flying a Bell 205 helicopter owned by Arizona Helicopters
    • Bell 205A-1
    • collided mid-air while inbound to the Mill Creek Heliport on the ANF
    • Registration number: Unknown
    • NTSB # Unknown
  • For more information, in case it becomes available, consult the NTSB Lookup Utiliy., NTSB Identification is unknown
  • Flight Safety Foundation ( Flight Safety Digest, Vol 25, No. 6, Nov-Dec 1999, Rotor Wing Accidents 1974-1998 (102 K pdf)
  • Litigation Records

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Media Articles and Reports.

Topic is night flying. These articles are two of many that followed the 2009 Station Fire. Mention is made of the accident in the 1970s that ended night flying.

  • Congressman Schiff wants Forest Service to consider lifting ban on night firefighting flights

    March 31, 2010 | Online article

    Nighttime flights ended in the '70s, but the congressman says changes in aviation technology may make operations safer. The Forest Service has been faulted for its response to the Station blaze.

    Citing questions raised by the devastating Station blaze, a local House member has asked that Congress require the U.S. Forest Service to consider lifting a decades-old ban on the use of aircraft to fight fires after dark.

    Rep. Adam Schiff (D- Burbank) proposed Wednesday that a panel of the House Appropriations Committee include in its 2011 funding bill a provision that the Forest Service conduct a formal study on whether to authorize night flying, something routinely done by the Los Angeles city and county fire departments... (More at the link.)

  • Aerial Firefighting with Night Vision Goggles; Technology can ease water drops, rescues and other operations

    January 18, 2011 | Online article

    As wildfires become more prevalent and ferocious, many in the fire service are looking for better ways to battle wildland blazes. One factor that is almost universally accepted is that the vast majority of fires diminish in severity overnight, when temperatures decline, humidity increases, and winds die down. As a result, a few fire agencies have embraced Night Vision Goggle (NVG) use by their aerial firefighters. This series of articles will examine where this innovation stands now and what might be coming... (Much more at the link.)

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Photos, Videos, & Tributes


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Contributors to this article: John E. Hunter, FWS; worked on Chantry Helitack (ANF) in 1982 and this accident was often discussed; Gerald Meehan, Larry Tucker, LAC, rjm, earthpig, Pyro5755

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