Incident Name: Wentachee Helicopter (2004) Incident, Lightning fires INC.698 and INC.697; SJ supply delivery Alpine Lakes Wilderness in the Cascade Mt Range
Date: August 11, 2004
Personnel: Patrick Mike Ward of Claytonville, GA
Agency/Organization: Helicopter Express Inc of Lawrenceville GA and Wenatchee WA, under contract with Okanogan & Wenatchee NFs
Summary: Pilot Mike Ward was ferrying supplies to smokejumpers working in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness. The supplies were carried 150' below the helicopter in a sling. There were loads for 2 drop sites in the sling. The helicopter arrived at the first site and lowered the sling to the ground. Firefighters released to load intended for the first site and reattached the second load meant to be dropped at the other site. The helicopter rotated as it began to leave the first drop site, and the aircraft's tail rotor contacted a dead tree. The helicopter began to spin and fell to the ground. As the helicopter fell, the aircraft began to disintegrate, and a fire erupted. Pilot Ward was killed in the crash.
Alpine Lakes Wilderness (Cascades) about 20 mi NW of Leavenworth WA (central Washington)
- US Forest Service: 72 hr briefing
- Concise Information from the NTSB, FAA, AAP, USFS and research by the WLF Staff:
- National Transportation Safety Board: Factual Report (79 K pdf)
- National Transportation Safety Board: Probable Cause (html)
The pilot's failure to maintain clearance from the snag while hovering out of ground effect during an external load operation. Factors were the smoke jumper's misjudgment of the tree heights in the area, which resulted in the use of too short a long line, and their failure to communicate with the pilot about the tall snag.
- NTSB: Full Narrative (html) Brief Probable Cause
- For more information consult the NTSB online lookup Utility Use registration number N205XP
- ARB Action Items
- Revise the IHOG Longline Procedures and Forest Service Operations and Safety Procedures Guide for Helicopter Pilots to state: In areas of sloping terrain or with obstacles rising to one or more sides of the cargo pickup/delivery area, or dip site, pilot shall maintain rotor clearance from all obstacles equivalent to the IHOG Chart 8-1 landing area safety circle requirements. When specified clearance cannot be maintained, the mission shall be declined by the pilot until hazards are removed, additional line can be added or a better location can be identified.
- Implement nationally a longline training and certification process for firefighters assigned to direct operations at helicopter drop zones. Include the following in the regional and national longline training:
- Tree height measurement
- Hazard recognition
- Positive air to ground communication requirements
- Re-evaluate the use of drop zone markers in light of the hazard of target fixation.
- Management Strengths
- Smokejumpers at the accident site made immediate notification to dispatch and instantly began rescue procedures in an effort to save the pilot.
- The unit was extremely helpful and cooperative in assisting the investigation team.
- Immediate and proper notifications were made to unit, regional and national offices.
- US Forest Service Heroes Memorial: Mike Ward
- Firefighting Pilot Killed in Helicopter Crash
8/11/2004 | Online Article
A helicopter pilot died yesterday when the chopper he was flying crashed while ferrying supplies to firefighters in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness in central Washington. The crash, about 20 miles northwest of Leavenworth, killed Mike Ward, 55, of Clayton, Ga. The only person on board, Ward worked for Helicopter Express of Lawrenceville, Ga.
Photos, Videos, & Tributes
- USFA Memorial Database: Mike Ward
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