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Incident Name / Location: 800 acre prescribed burn on the DeSoto Ranger District on the National Forests in Mississippi, south of Wiggins, MS
Date: 3/30/2015
Personnel: 2 lives lost
Agency/Organization: T&M Aviation in Abbeville, LA, under contract with the US Forest Service
Position: aerial firefighters


Brandon Ricks, 40, pilot from Blanchard, OK
Steven W Cobb, 55, from Wiggins MS, Forest Service Engineering Technician

Brandon Ricks, pilot, and Steve Cobb, firefighter, died of injuries sustained when their U.S. Forest Service contracted Bell 206L-1 helicopter crashed while involved in ignition operations on a prescribed burn of about 800 acres in the Desoto National Forest. One other firefighter who was critically injured in the accident was airlifted to the South Alabama Medical Center in Mobile, Alabama.

Brendan Mullen, 42, a member of the Helena National Forest's helitack crew, survived the helicopter crash.

Steve Cobb and Brandon Ricks

Steve Cobb Steve Cobb
Brandon Ricks Brandon Ricks

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DeSoto Ranger District on the National Forests in Mississippi, Harrison County, south of Wiggins, MS; near Saucier, about 25 miles NW of Biloxi -- Vicinity of Airey Tower Rd and Martha Redmond Rd, MS; location from Inciweb 30.667 latitude, -89.095 longitude

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Reports, Documentation, Lessons Learned

  • US Forest Service Chief Tidwell's Expression of Sympathy

    From: FS-Office of the Chief

    Sent: Tuesday, March 31, 2015 9:06 AM

    To: FS-All FS

    Subject: My expression of sympathy

    Since last evening our thoughts and hearts have been with the family, friends, and co-workers of the two people who lost their lives yesterday afternoon when a helicopter crashed on the Desoto Ranger District on the National Forests in Mississippi.

    While we are unable to release names until we can confirm families of the deceased have received official notifications, I can say the pilot of the helicopter and a U.S. Forest Service employee of the Desoto Ranger District were killed in the accident; another Forest Service employee from a different region was seriously injured and airlifted to a hospital in Mobile, Alabama.

    At the time of the crash, they were supporting prescribed fire operations on the forest. We’re grateful to the Forest Service employees, the county sheriff and the emergency responders who worked so hard to ensure the injured individual received prompt medical attention.

    The Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board were notified of the accident and are responding. The National Transportation Safety Board is in charge of the investigation; we will cooperate with them fully.

    To the families of all involved, please know we are thinking of you; we are here for you and we are sending you our love in this time of loss.

    We will share more information as it becomes available.

    Chief Tidwell

  • US Forest Service: 24-hour Report
  • Inciweb: DeSoto Aviation Response

    Inciweb: DeSoto Aviation Response Inciweb: DeSoto Aviation Response

  • Concise Information from the NTSB, FAA, AAP and research by the WLF Staff:
    • 3/30/ 2015, time, special name of aircraft
    • 2 killed, Steve Cobb and Brandon Ricks, another firefighter critically injured
    • Operator: T & M Aviation under contract with the US Forest Service
    • Type: BELL 206L-1
    • Location: south of Wiggins, MS
    • FAA Registration # N50KH
    • NTSB # ERA15FA173
  • National Transportation Safety Board: Prelimimary Report (html), text below
  • NTSB Identification: ERA15FA173

    14 CFR Public Use

    Accident occurred Monday, March 30, 2015 in Saucier, MS

    Aircraft: BELL HELICOPTER TEXTRON 206 L-1,

    registration: N50KH

    Injuries: 2 Fatal, 1 Serious.

    This is preliminary information, subject to change, and may contain errors. Any errors in this report will be corrected when the final report has been completed. NTSB investigators either traveled in support of this investigation or conducted a significant amount of investigative work without any travel, and used data obtained from various sources to prepare this aircraft accident report.

    On March 30, 2015, about 1435 central daylight time, a Bell 206 L-1, N50KH, operated by T&M Aviation for the U. S. Forest Service, was destroyed when it impacted terrain near Saucier, Mississippi. Day visual meteorological conditions prevailed; however, obscuration due to smoke were reported by multiple eyewitnesses and no flight plan was filed. The commercial pilot and one flight crew member were fatally injured; another flight crew member received serious injuries. The public use aerial application flight had departed from Dean Griffin Memorial Airport (M24), Wiggins, Mississippi, about 1334.

    The public use flight was contracted by the U. S. Forest Service to assist in a controlled burn through a process known as "aerial ignition." Multiple witnesses were in contact with the accident helicopter from the ground during the operation; however, none of the witnesses observed the helicopter crash. Preliminary satellite tracking data indicated that the helicopter had been operating at a low altitude over the controlled burn area for approximately 50 minutes prior to the accident. The last recorded position for the helicopter at 1433, indicated that it was at an altitude of 350 feet, and a heading of 150 degrees. According to a witness, seconds prior to the accident he observed the helicopter complete a 180 degree left turn to a northerly heading. About 7 seconds later he heard a sound that resembled an air hose being unplugged from a high pressure tank, which was followed by the helicopter impacting trees and then the ground.

    The accident site was located in a wooded area on a northerly heading about one quarter mile north of a road. The initial impact point was identified by several broken trees, at a height of about 80 feet, and was located about 1,000 feet southeast of the helicopter's final recorded position. The wreckage path was about 40 feet long, and oriented approximately 002 degrees magnetic. Both the tail rotor and tailboom sustained fire damage and were co-located near a tree 20 feet south of the main wreckage. The tailboom was separated into five sections; each section contained a Thomas disc coupling, a hanger bearing and about 3 feet of tail rotor drive shaft. A two foot section of tail rotor drive shaft extended from the 90 degree gearbox of the tail rotor assembly. The high skid landing gear was separated from the fuselage and located a few feet aft of the main wreckage. The helicopter upper deck section, which included the main rotor, transmission, and collective/cyclic hydraulic servos, was attached to the fuselage and had sustained fire damage. The cockpit and cabin were destroyed by fire with the exception of the center window frame and portions of the instrument panel, which were co-located with the fuselage. Both main rotor blades sustained significant fire damage, but were attached to the main rotor hub: Blade A (the white blade) was slightly bent opposite the direction of the rotation and Blade B (the red blade) displayed two 45 degree chordwise bends. The tip to Blade B exhibited signs of overload separation that was consistent with impact forces and was located about 20 feet northeast of the main wreckage.

    Postaccident examination of the airframe was conducted at the accident site. Flight control continuity was traced from the collective/cyclic hydraulic servos to the swash plate and pitch change links, respectively. Hand rotation of the main drive shaft confirmed the presence of drive continuity through the main transmission to the main rotor blades. Both pitch change links fractured on impact; the Blade A pitch change link exhibited fracture signatures at the swaged end that were consistent with overload forces and the link to Blade B fractured about mid-span. The main rotor hub assembly sustained little damage, but was completely intact. Each fractured section of the tail rotor drive shaft displayed evidence of overload separation at the fracture ends; however, all sections rotated freely by hand through their respective hanger bearings and flexible Thomas couplings. Continuity of the tail rotor drive system was traced from the tail rotor through the gearbox to the steel tail rotor drive shaft that was mounted to the freewheeling unit on the engine gearbox. There were no indications of spline drive wear on the tail rotor spline shaft coupling at the freewheeling unit and the main drive shaft did not exhibit any resistance when moved forward and aft.

    The pilot held a FAA Commercial Pilot Certificate with ratings for rotorcraft, airplane single engine land, and instrument airplane. He also held an airframe and powerplant certificate. His most recent FAA second-class medical certificate was issued on February 23, 2015, at which time he reported 8,000 hours of total flight experience.

  • For more information as it becomes available, consult the NTSB online lookup Utility; Use NTSB Identification number ERA15FA173.
  • From: FS-Office of the Chief

    Sent: Monday, April 06, 2015 1:44 PM

    To: FS-All FS

    Subject: Praise and Gratitude

    This past Saturday, I attended funeral services for Steve Cobb, an engineer technician on the De Soto National Forest who lost his life when the helicopter he was flying in crashed. It was an honor to represent you, hear testimonials and learn of Steve’s commitment and dedication to excellence in his work. Steve will be missed.

    I offer my thanks to those who represented the agency at the funeral of Brandon Ricks. Brandon, the pilot, worked for several years flying helicopters in support of prescribed fire and wildland fire suppression activities.

    One bright spot that lifted my spirts this weekend came when I visited Brendan Mullen in the hospital. Brendan, also a passenger in the helicopter, survived the crash. Those of you who know Brendan, a firefighter from the Helena National Forest, will not be surprised that his thoughts were with Steve and Brandon and their families. Brendan seemed to be in good spirits, even after his physical therapist took him for a short walk. He is making steady progress with his recovery and his nurses were quick to share he is doing very well!

    I want to thank the employees who will participate in the Coordinated Response Protocol (CRP) associated with this tragic accident. This is the first time we will use CRP with an aviation accident. Doing so will allow us to expand our focus on learning. We can honor Steve and Brandon’s service and dedication through learning everything we can from this tragic accident.

    Throughout my visits, I heard only praise and gratitude for the way the Forest Service supported the families and our employees in this time of need. It makes me very proud and again demonstrates who we are. Our thoughts and prayers will stay with the Cobb and Ricks families and friends and continue to wish Brendan steady progress with his recovery.

    Chief Tidwell

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Media Articles and Reports

  • Victims killed in helicopter crash identified

    3/31/15 | Online Article

    HARRISON COUNTY, MS (WLOX) - We now know the names of the victims in that fatal helicopter crash that claimed two lives in Harrison County Monday.

    Harrison County Coroner Gary Hargrove said the pilot, Brandon Ricks, 40, of Oklahoma died of smoke inhalation. The other man killed in the crash, Steven W. Cobb, 55, of Wiggins died of multiple blunt force trauma. Hargrove said Cobb worked for the U.S. Forest Service and Ricks worked for T & M Aviation out of Oklahoma.

    Members of the National Transportation Safety Board, the Federal Aviation Administration and representatives from the helicopter company that crashed in the Desoto National Forest are all in Harrison County. They're digging through the wreckage, learning as much as they can about the Monday afternoon helicopter crash that... (much more at the link...)

  • Firefighters rally around U.S. Forest Service in wake of fatal helicopter crash

    4/1/2015 | Online Article

    Firefighters across the country are rallying around the U.S. Forest Service to offer their help and prayers. Several members of the U.S. Forest Service said they are truly amazed at the outpouring of support.

    They say much like law enforcement, there's a powerful bond among firefighters who are all feeling a sense of loss.

    Flags flew at half-staff at the Wiggins Fire Department Tuesday, a somber reminder of two lives lost in a tragic helicopter crash in Harrison County Monday.

    "I think everybody's heartbroken, and it doesn't matter who is it or how it happened, it was just a man out doing his job," said Wiggins Fire Chief Jody Hatten.

    Hatten said... (much more at the link...)

  • Survivor of helicopter crash: Funeral plans set for pilot, Forest Service worker

    4/2/15 | Online Article

    The lone survivor of Monday's helicopter crash in the De Soto National Forest is recuperating from a broken neck and burns across 15 percent of his body while funeral plans are made for the co-worker and pilot who died. Brendan Mullen, 42, remains hospitalized and will need skin grafts, said Kathy Bushnell of the Helena National Forest district in Montana.

    "Brendan is aware that there's been a lot of attention on him, and even more thoughts and prayers sent his way," she said. "He and his family appreciate it." Mullen, a Forest Service employee for nearly 20 years, had been working in... (more at the link)

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Photos, Videos, & Tributes

  • Pat Sullivan (County Fire Marshall) Gives Update On Helicopter Crash In Harrison County, MS 3/30/15 (Video - Sun Herald on You Tube)
  • Survivor airlifted from chopper crash in Saucier, MS 3/30/15 ((Video - Sun Herald on You Tube)
  • Lifeflight on Scene of Chopper Crash (Video - Sun Herald on YouTube)
  • Victims identified in Harrison County helicopter crash-- Harrison County Press Conference 2/31/15 (Video - Sun Herald on You Tube)

    Gretta Bolley, USFS Forest Supervisor: "Prayers go out to the families and to our Forest Service family."

  • USFA Memorial Database: Brandon Ricks | Steve Cobb
  • Funeral services for Brandon Ricks will be at held at 2 p.m. Saturday 4/4/2015 at Pleasant Hill Baptist Church in Blanchard, MS.
  • Obituary: Brandon Seth Ricks
  • Steve Cobb's visitation will be Friday from 4 to 8 p.m. at First Baptist Church of Wiggins, where he was a deacon. Funeral services will be at the church at 11 a.m. Saturday 4/4/2015.
  • Obituary: Steve Cobb

    Steve Cobb grew up in Wiggins. Went to Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College at Perk. Then, went to Mississippi State University and majored in economics. He loved the outdoors. He raised cattle on the side and grew a vegetable garden. He loved to hunt, fish and hike. All that led to the only career he ever had with the U.S. Forest Service. He started there in 1983. His father in law, Leland Redmond, said earlier this week that he was a devoted Christian and family man. He was a deacon and a Sunday School teacher at First Baptist. Steve Cobb leaves behind a wife, Cindy, a son, Adam, a daughter, Jenna Parsons, and three grandchildren.

  • Brendan Mullen, 42, survived ; you have our best wishes for a speedy recovery!

    Brendan Mullen, 42, survived Brendan Mullen, 42, survived

  • Firefighter families, recovering firefighter Brenden Mullen (6 months recovering), the WFF, Seattle Mariners baseball team and Miller-Coors supporting other firefighter survivors and the fallen. Thanks! Small video: WFF Facrbook post
  • US Forest Service Fire Heroes Memorial: Brandon Ricks | Steven W Cobb

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Contributors to this article:  RJM, John Miller

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