HELENA — The Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation (DNRC) released the SAFECOM report on the June 15 helicopter accident near the Deep Creek Canyon Fire.
DNRC says the incident was the first helicopter accident in the history of the DNRC Aviation Program. Previously, there have been two fixed-wing accidents.
According to the report, one of DNRC’s Bell UH-1H (Huey) Type 2 helicopters was ordered to the Deep Creek Canyon Fire to bring more crew and help with bucket drops. About 3:20 p.m., the helicopter was dispatched to pick up a Helitack crew at DNRC’s Central Land Office (CLO) in Helena. At CLO, the helicopter loaded a crew of four personnel, including a helicopter manager and three Helitack crew members.
Upon arriving at the helibase, the helicopter experienced adverse winds, which caused a hard landing of the aircraft. At impact, the aircraft spun right about 120 degrees and rolled to the left into an upside-down position.
Once the aircraft stopped moving, the pilot realized the engine was still running and turned it off. As the pilot was doing this, he noticed the aircraft was on fire and that at least two crew members had escaped.
The helicopter manager had managed to kick the helicopter windshield out and flag down additional help. Montana State Trooper Amanda Villa was at the scene and helped crew members escape the aircraft. After making sure no other personnel were trapped, the pilot exited the helicopter himself.
Once all members of the crew were safely out of the helicopter, they were transported to medical centers for medical evaluations. Two members were taken to Billings Clinic Broadwater in Townsend while the remaining three were taken to St. Peter’s Health in Helena. There were no serious injuries, and all personnel were released from the hospital that night after being assessed and cleared by medical professionals.
“Firefighters do heroic work every day, and I, like all Montanans, am grateful the pilot and crew are recovering,” said Gov. Greg Gianforte. “As our first responders continue to fight fire in the weeks ahead, they have the full force of the state behind them.”
“We are incredibly grateful that the pilot and crew are safe and home with their families after the accident at the Deep Creek Fire,” said Amanda Kaster, DNRC Director. “As one of the most capable and proficient air operations programs in the region, we are using this event to strengthen the Fire Protection Program at DNRC. Our Aviation Program and the rest of our firefighting personnel remain resilient and ready for the upcoming fire season.”
DNRC reports that once crew members were debriefed by officials, the crew independently decided to initiate retraining. DNRC Air Operations will begin retraining the pilot in wind evaluation and recognition of adverse wind conditions. Additionally, DNRC Air Operations will also retrain in the areas of aerodynamics with special attention given in the areas of settling with power and loss of tail rotor effectiveness.