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Incident Name:
Date: 7/18/1998
Personnel: 3 lives lost
Agency/Organization: Heavy Lift Helicopters under contract with the BLM; ship was returningto Apple Valley CA to fulfill a contract with the US Forest Service
Position: aerial firefighters


Duane Williams
George P Converse 49, from McMinnville OR
Jose Castillo

On July 18, 1998, at 1625 hours Pacific daylight time, a Sikorsky CH-54A, N64KL, crashed near Yucca Valley, California, after experiencing a main rotor blade separation and a subsequent in-flight explosion and fire. The aircraft was destroyed and the three crewmembers -- Williams, Converse and Castillo -- received fatal injuries. The firefighting aircraft was being operated as a repositioning flight by Heavy Lift Helicopters under an agreement with BLM when the accident occurred.

CH 54A for type; photo from northern CA fire, photo credit Mellie

CH 54A for type CH 54A for type


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near Yucca Valley CA, heading back to Apple Valley headquarters


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Reports, Documentation, Lessons Learned

  • Concise Information from the NTSB, FAA, AAP, USFS and research by the WLF Staff:
    • 7/18/98
    • 3 killed: Duane Williams, George Converse, Jose Castillo
    • Operator: Heavy Lift Helicopters under contract with BLM
    • Type: Sikorsky CH-54A
    • Location: near Yucca Valley CA.
    • FAA Registration # N64KL
    • NTSB # LAX98FA236
  • National Transportation Safety Board: Factual Report (90.75 K pdf)
  • National Transportation Safety Board: Probable Cause (html)

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

    An in-flight main rotor blade spar separation as a result of the pilot-in-command's decision to continue to fly the aircraft after it had failed an AD directed BIM check. Factors were the failure of the operator's chief pilot to maintain proper supervision over the operation of a company aircraft with a known grounding deficiency and the improper repair to the main rotor blade by unknown persons, which damaged the blade's spar.

  • NTSB: Full Narritive
  • For more information consult the NTSB online lookup Utility Use NTSB Identification: LAX98FA236
  • Converse named:

    George Converse George Converse

  • US Social Security Death Index: George P Converse
  • US Forest Service Heroes Memorial: George P Converse | Duane Williams

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Media Articles and Reports




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Photos, Videos, & Tributes

  • State of Oregon Firefighter Memorial: George Converse (He was the only Oregon resident or employee with an Oregon company.)

    George Converse of Oregon was working as a contract helicopter pilot through Heavy Lift Helicopters for the Bureau of Land Management. He and fellow pilot Duane Williams were returning to company headquarters in Apple Valley, CA after fighting wildland fires in Mexico and Florida. The helicopter experienced a blade separation and crashed 25 minutes from its home base in Apple Valley.


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