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Incident Name:  Lost Fire, Cloud Peak Wilderness, Bighorn National Forest, SW of Sheridan WY
Date: 8/19/1988
Personnel: Merrin Rodgers, BLM Radio Technician Trainee
Age: 
Agency/Organization: private company under contract with the Forest Service
Position: firefighter

Summary: On August 19, 1988, an Aerospatiale SA315B Lama was tasked with transporting a Helitack Crewmember, two Communications Technicians, and cargo, which included 4 repeater batteries to the repeater site in the Cloud Peak Wilderness Area on the Buffalo District in the Bighorn National Forest in Wyoming. Fires were burning in the surrounding area, including the Lost Fire which needed communications.

While flying reconnaissance for a proper landing site, the helicopter began to spin violently to the left, descended 400 feet rapidly and its tail struck the rocks. The seatbelt of the BLM Radio Tech Trainee in the left front seat failed. He was ejected and died. The other three occupants were seriously injured. All were wearing PPE.

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Maps

General area of the Cloud Peak Wilderness SW of Sheridan WY and 128 miles west of Buffalo WY; exact accident location is unknown.

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Reports, Documentation, Lessons Learned

  • Concise Information from the NTSB, FAA, USFS and research by the WLF Staff:
    • 8/19/1988
    • 1 killed: Merrin Rodgers, BLM Radio Technician Trainee; 3 injured: Pilot, Helitack, Communications Unit Leader
    • Operator: unknown
    • Type: Aerospatiale SA315B Lama
    • Location: Cloud Peak Wilderness SW of Sheridan WY
    • FAA Registration # unknown
    • NTSB # no record
    • The NTSB did not investigate the incident. To check for yourself, consult the NTSB online lookup Utility.
  • Forest Service Investigations - Fatal Aviation Accident History (1974-2002): Pages 64 - 66 for this incident (348 K pdf) | Entire History (download 4.72 MB pdf)

    The probable cause of this mishap was determined to be the loss of power to the anti-torque (tail) rotor. This forced the helicopter into an uncontrollable spin to the left and impact with large granite boulders. The loss of power to the tail rotor was caused by the failure of the intermediate coupling shaft assembly, due to a fatigue crack at the coupling flange. Contributing to the failure was improper compliance with the manufacturer’s mandatory service bulletin number 01.14.

    The probable cause of the fatal injury was the failure of the passenger restraint system, which allowed the passenger to be thrown from the helicopter upon impact.

  • Note: Prior to 1996 NTSB did not investigate Gov owned and operated, Gov owned and contractor operated or some aircraft that were privately owned and operated as "public aircraft". Government agency investigations and reports were/are often hard to find and access. The "Pressler Act", passed in 1995 and enacted in 1996, changed that, making all aircraft accident reports easier to access and lessons easier to learn. (Click the link and search on "Pressler".)

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Wildlandfire.com Links:

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Media Articles and Reports

  • Announcement of helicopter crash:

    Aerospatiale Lama LODD Aerospatiale Lama LODD

    Aerospatiale Lama LODD Aerospatiale Lama LODD

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Photos, Videos, & Tributes

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Contributors to this article: virgil, Dave

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