MapsReportsWLF LinksMedia ArticlesMultimediaComments


Incident Name:  Kinishba Fire in the Aspen Ridge area
Date: July 26, 2003, 1028 hours
Personnel: 2 lives lost, 2 seriously injured
Agency/Organization: Airwest Helicopters under contract with the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), Fort Apache Indian Reservation-White Mountain Apache

Randall Bonito, Jr, 32, BIA helitack crew member
Jesse Pearce, 50, pilot

Pilot Pearce was operating a Bell 206L-3 helicopter and flying a helitack crew to initial attack the Wilderness fire on Aspen Ridge near Whiteriver, Arizona. There were a total of 5 people aboard the helicopter. Two firefighters were dropped off in a meadow and the helicopter moved to another landing area to drop off 1 additional firefighter and some tools. As the third firefighter dismounted the helicopter, he heard a knocking noise. As the helicopter returned to the meadow drop-off point, it was observed to be flying slowly and at a low altitude. The helicopter passed the drop off point and crashed into a wooded area. Firefighters ran to the crash site and quickly extinguished a fire in the helicopter's engine area. Firefighter Bonito and Pilot Pearce were killed upon impact.

helmet and nomex helmet and nomex
crash site crash site

Horizontal line


departed the Whiteriver Airport (E24), at 1000, en route to the Wilderness Fire in the vicinity of Aspen Ridge, 12 statute miles from E24.

The accident site was located on a logging road in a heavily forested area indicative of northern Arizona terrain. The primary wreckage was at 33 degrees 53.148 minutes north latitude and 109 degrees 40.486 minutes west longitude, with an elevation of 9,232-feet mean sea level (msl).

Return to top

Horizontal line

Reports, Documentation, Lessons Learned

  • Concise Information from the NTSB, FAA, AAP, USFS, LLC, WFF and research by the WLF Staff:
    • July 26, 2003, Helicopter 356
    • 2 killed: Bonito and Pearce
    • Operator: under contract with the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), Fort Apache Indian Reservation
    • Type: BELL 206L-3 Jet Ranger
    • Location: near Whiteriver, AZ.
    • FAA Registration # N6184D
    • NTSB # LAX03GA244
  • National Transportation Safety Board: example Factual Report (102 K pdf)
  • National Transportation Safety Board: Probable Cause (html) Probable Cause (233K pdf)

    The pilot's failure to maintain a minimum translational lift airspeed while maneuvering in high density altitude conditions at near maximum required torque and above the in ground effect hover altitude, that resulted in a loss of tail rotor effectiveness and a loss of control. The pilot's inadequate in flight planning in his failure to note and account for the power requirements necessary to conduct takeoffs and the slow maneuvering flight at the accident site were also causal.

  • NTSB: Full Narrative (html)
  • For more information consult the NTSB online lookup Utility Use NTSB Identification: LAX03GA244
  • USFA Memorial Database: Jess Pearce | Randall Bonito, Jr

Return to top
Horizontal line Links:



Return to top

Horizontal line

Media Articles and Reports

  • Helicopter crash kills 2 at site of Ariz. wildfire

    7/27/2003 | Online Archive

    WHITERIVER, Ariz. A helicopter dropping off a crew of elite firefighters crashed yesterday morning, killing two people and seriously injuring two other crew members; one was the pilot... The contract helicopter was taking a crew from the BIA to begin an initial attack on a fire in the Aspen Ridge area...

Return to top

Horizontal line

Photos, Videos, & Tributes



Return to top

Contributors to this article: 

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