Friday, August 8, 2008

S-61 Helicopter Crash On The Buckhorn Fire!

I must remove my commentary of the crash... this is at the request of someone in washington... stay tuned for a better explanation... I will post one soon!



Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing Michael. Articulate account. Heartfelt account.

This crash was an earth-stopping moment for the wildland fire community. We are not the same as we were before.

My thoughts and prayers for all involved. May we draw on our firefighting network -- brotherhood / sisterhood -- for strength to get through the tough times.

Sharing the stories is a beginning. Thanks for this beginning you made. We're with you, behind you, beside you, around you, in support of you and of all who are part of us and our extended wildland firefighter family.



Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing. Many of us share your grief and shock, and are glad to hear the story from someone who was there.

Justin V. - Missoula Helitack, MT DNRC

Anonymous said...


Thank you for taking the time to write this.

Shari Downhill
Northwest Timber Fallers

Anonymous said...

Thanks, good luck in your healing. Critical Incident Stress Debriefings have always helped me and my crew in these situations, please consider participating in them if you haven't already or consider demanding them if it hasn't been offered. You did a great job under the worst conditions, my humblest respects to you.

Anonymous said...

Michael, I appreciate your account of the story. The pictures are interesting and I hope that they were turned over to NTSB along with the rest of ours. However there were a couple of errors in your account, who the helitackers were on the ground for one. I am sure the these errors were not intentional but I hope that the full story is told soon along with the proper units credited for their efforts.
Thanks to those on the ground who helped with the extrication, medivac, scene security and removal of the survivors. My thoughts are with the families of the deceased as well as the survivors. I hope the full story comes out soon and we can learn from this tragedy.


Please let us not forget the 14 fatalities on South Canyon in 1994!! God Bless

Anonymous said...

This is an amazing, humbling and tremendous account. As I read, I felt that we were just sitting across form one could have been any one of my Helitack or Rappel family. Thank you for sharing it. Thank you for being there.

Anonymous said...

Michael, I did my last fire as an IC in 1980. I still feel the brotherhood that you speak of. My flag is at half-mast today in honor of those who fought their last wildland fire.
wendall jones, USFS retiree, Damascus , OR.

Anonymous said...

incredible post. THANK YOU...

Kevin Conant said...

An amazing story, I'm glad that you chose to post it. Those guys were blessed to have you and your pilot over the incident. As a former Helitak, when I heard of the incident, my heart sank with grief as I shot up a prayer for the rescued and for the families and friends of the lost.
The shame you experience seems like survivor's guilt. Having lost too many friends to count, you are not alone. You're having a normal reaction to an abnormal situation. Talking about it helps. The pain subsides with time. Again, I'm gald that you've chosen to share your experience, your words and the photos speak volumes and fills in the voids for those of us who grieve the loss. This June marked my 30th year, and I wouldn't choose to do anything else if given the opportunity to start it all over again.

Hang in their brother, we're thinking and praying for you and all of our firefighter family.

Kevin Conant

Anonymous said...

A great first person account. As a helitanker pilot I can appreciate the turmoil and grief you must have felt as you watched this terrible occurance. Thank you for posting this account, it is a tribue to everyone involved.

Anonymous said...

Being both a Helicopter Pilot and Wildland Firefighter this hits really hard and close to the heart, especially as I was not far from this incident a few weeks ago. My thoughts and prayers for everyone involved.

Michael, I can only imagine what it was like being the first aviation unit onscene and having to set aside your personal feelings to deal with the bigger picture. Excellent job and well done to both you and pilot!

Anonymous said...

"why the rush to pull so many crews off the hill in order to avoid lightning? Our question was, has anybody done a risk assesment to determine exchanging one risk for another."
Well Michael, I suspect people on a ridge during a lightning storm is a hazard andI wonder why anyone would question the logic in doing so. second yo asked it a risk annalysis was done eschanging one risjk for another...okay.., you stated that the mission for your helicopter was to to pick up 2 helitack off of H-44, if they were helitack qualified why did you need to go, oh you stated it was to get a final look at the fire, it is what we in the Heliase Management business call a Bimbo ride. You took an unnecessary risk when you got on to the helicopter to pick up 2 qualified helitack members, If you mission had been successful,You would have endangered the pilot and the other 2 helitack by placing another +-200 pounds on the A/C.
and when discussing with the pilot the inefficency of the government...did you forget that you are a part of it?

I don't take away the emotional outpouring of your blog, I am sure it was shared by all who were on the fire.....that isn't my point. I have been in aviation since 1974 so I am not just spouting off but do know a thing or two. You can choose to delete this response as is your choice but at least you would have read it.

Anonymous said...

Michael, I thank you for postting your expirience with us. I hope it helps to put your thoughts in to words wich is not always easy. Make sure you keep an eye on the crew lets hope everyone pulls together. sup 531

birthwisdom said...

My sons best friend was on that helicopter. Anything I hear about his last moments are helpful. I want to know that he didn't suffer. I want to know (really) that he wasn't even there, but I know he was. Thanks for your bravery and willingness to be vulnerable. It is helpful. Thanks for Steve Caleb Renno. Sincerely, Ludia

Anonymous said...

You are a hero, that was beautifully written.

Thank you for sharing what must be a very hard topic to write about.

Sincerely, Tori in Redding , CA

Anonymous said...

Zion Helitack,

Having been a Zion Helitack firefighter last year, I awaited a new post on the blog. To great fire fighting stories, and some awsome pictures. I had no idea that this is what I was going to be reading. Mike I know this must have been hard for you to watch unfold, and looking back at what Zion Helitack went through two years ago on the Fishlake, you have become more than a brother to me and others you manage. Keep learning those things that will help not only you but those you assits while you contine to be a great fire fighter.
Paul Damron

Anonymous said...

Wow-what a story. Thanks for sharing. A special thanks to you and your fellow firefighters for the job you do. Our thoughts and prayers are with you, all the people involved in this tragedy and all the firefighters out there.

Anonymous said...

Wow, thanks for sharing. That's powerful stuff.

Anonymous said...

Well said Michael. Thank you for sharing and reminding us all of the vunerability of those who risk their lives to do the people's work. Seldom do we have a first hand account of the willing personal sacrafice of our fire fighters. Zane Smith, USFS Retired.

Anonymous said...

You are an eloquent writer. I too am saddened beyond belief at the events that have transpired. The emotional journey will be long for all those directly and indirectly involved. Each summer that passes I pray that we can do a great job, remain vigilant and adhere to our safety practices, and when all is said and done, come home at the end of the season with a few good stories to tell. It breaks my heart that no matter how much we train or how diligent we are, we continue to be dealt tragedy as if it were a subtle reminder that we are, after all, human. It is an inherently dangerous profession we have all chosen but one I am proud be in even in tragedy. I wish you peace in your own heart at what you witnessed and commend you. You did the right thing. As your actions and all those who desparately tried to help proved, the essence of being a firefighter goes much deeper than the title "Firefighter". I hope to work with you all again and again. Thanks to you and your crew for what you do.

Godspeed and take care,
Your previous Iron Air Support,
Denise Blankenship

Anonymous said...

God Bless you and all firefighters, be they ground or air.

Heather said...

with sadness... and hopes that those who remember them will do so fondly...

Anonymous said...

Sorry, but the 14 deaths at South Canyon on July 6, 1994 still holds the record. I hate that this is the case.

pendoodles said...

Thank you so much for your work and efforts to provide help to those in need durring the fires all over our beloved state. You all mean the world to us, and any loss of life hurts deep inside. Our prayers are with you!

Anonymous said...

God bless those who perished and those who worked so hard to save those who survived. All of us assigned to the buckhorn and to the iron complex were heartbroken when the news hit. It seemed everyone wanted to go help but realized that our best service would be to hold off and let the rescue take place with the proper resources.
I can only pray at this point for the souls lost and those left behind with the weight of this tragedy on their hearts. The only thing that we, as an industry, do better than our tireless efforts on the fireline, is the support we provide eachother when tragedy befalls us.
I applaud the coordinated efforts of all of those involved with the H44 tragedy. God bless you all.

Anonymous said...


Thanks for the story.

I quit trying to make sense of tragedy years ago, bad things happen to good people and this has always been so.

Remember all the reasons why you train the way you do, and why you perform your job in the pro manner you always have, and know that you do what you can to avoid this.

Hope you and the crew are all OK

Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing and helping the rest of us try to comprehend this tragedy. Here's a big hug for ya. I miss you guys... Take care and stay safe!

Roy Skinner said...

Thank you for sharing this story with those of us who were not there. My heart aches for the family and friends involved in this horrible tragedy. I am sorry that some people choose to anonymously post and critique every little thing that went wrong. This is a place to support each other not tear each other apart. We love all our brothers and sisters and our prayers are with you.

Roy Skinner

Anonymous said...

Thanks for a very informative and narrative view of this tragedy. I know very well the dangers and risks of fire mixed with the forces of "Mother Nature.". I am a retired smokejumper out of McCall and was active in July,'94 when the Storm King Mountain Fire in Colorado took the lives of 14 wildland firefighter which included 3 smokejumpers, 2 helitak, and 9 Prineville Hotshots. To this day, I still often think about these firefighters, 3 of which were very close friends of mine. Stay safe this summer and take care.

Lady Bird said...

As part of the firefighter family, my heart is with you. Your account of this tragic episode painted a vivid picture of the tragedy. I always think about all of you every time you are out there putting your lives on the line to protect such valuable resources. Wildland firefighters are not appreciated as much as they should be. 2008 has been an unfortunate year as far as firefighting accidents. Keep up the hard work, Mike, and remember to take good care of yourself during these unfortunate episodes. Remember to heal. Thank you for sharing...Until next time...Charlie Bird

Anonymous said...


Thank you for sharing your account. I'm fortunate to have taught and worked with you and I was just a few miles away managing a helibase as these events transpired and my thoughts were with all those involved. Keep your head up and keep inspiring all those that you lead. I'm also disappointed in those that chose to post and question strategies as this is not the place. Everyone please donate to the Wildland Firefighter's Foundation.

Anonymous said...


As I continue to search the internet and news updates to keep myself sane, I came across your blog. I had an irreplaceable man on that helicopter. There are no words... I want to thank you for bravely sharing, what all of us here at home, try to only fabricate in our minds minute after minute. Sometimes when something like this occurs, as hard as it is to hear, connected words such as these almost return us to their side again. I can be just that one step closer to him when he was such a world away. Thank you and I appreciate you for all your efforts that day.
Kathleen O,
Medford, OR

Anonymous said...


I'm not much into blogging, but have had a number of people tell me I ought to read this one. Well, I have, and I can't pass without adding at my 2 cents worth.

I know there are a lot of people, including young and old fire fighters reading this blog. So my words are not only to Mike, but to all of you. I hope that won't offend anyone.

Can you all remember where you were, and what you were doing on 9/11? Not only do I remember in detail that horrible and sad day, I can also tell you where I was and what I was about when I heard the news of South Canyon, 30 Mile, Kramer, and many, many more.
I remember a little secretary in Ely Nevada pinning a purple ribbon on my nomex. That ribbon has turned into a pin and I have worn one on my ball cap and one on my Sunday going to meetings suit for these past 12 years or more. And I wear it with pride.

Needless to say, incidents such at this crash at H-44, cut me right to my heart. Words cannot express the emotion that catches in my throat as I think about the sacrifice, the acts of heroism and the suffering of loved ones, including all of you in the wildland fire fighting community.

My thanks to you Mike for expressing your observations and feelings on this blog. We all have to grieve in our own time and way. I acknowledge that this blog and your description of this incident as it unfolded for you, and is your way of dealing with the pain. Atta boy, Mike, I know what your objective was and is and some of the pain your experiencing.

My days of fire fighting have passed. I'm now retired to an arm chair, where I can quarter back in comfort of my own living room. I know my comments don't hold a lot of water, but let me just make one or two quick points.

First, to all who were involved with this incident, please don't second guess yourselves, concerning your decisons or actions. You can drive your selves crazy saying "what if" or "if only". You made the best call you could. Beating yourselfs' up serves no one.
All of us arm chair quater backs need to be very careful with our evaluations. We weren't there, we don't know all the circumstances. Lets rest assured that this incident will recieve a full evaluation. Those responsible for this investigation and evaluation will identify the weak points and changes will be forth coming. South Canyon did that, as well as 30 Mile and all the others from Mann Gulch forward. Accept the changes that will come and incorporate them into your work ethic. To do anything else would be an insult to our fallen brethern. We all owe the fallen our determination to be better fire fighters for the lessons their sacrifice has provided us.

To all you young men and women who have joined the ranks of wildland fire fighting, my hat is off to you. Thanks for your blisters, your headaches, your smoke filled eyes and lungs. Thanks so much for being there; for putting it all on the line every day. I want you to know there are people who know, understand and can identify with your daily efforts and sacrifice. Please, don't fade in light of this tragedy. Just lift your head up and be better at what you do.

One last thing, and then I'll stand down. I am the son of an old time fire fighter (CCC vintage). I had the pleasure of doing it for better part of 40 years. And now, I have a son that is a third generation firefighter. I am so proud of him. I would never have wished this profession on him, nor encouraged him in any way. But the fact that he has followed this path makes me so very proud. And so, in conclusion, Mike and all who might read this, I'll tell you what I say to my son. "Do your best, keep your head about you, and come home safe." That's my wish for Mike, my son, and all who launch or answer the call.

Thanks for letting me ramble on...
I do feel better. Mike I think you might just have hit on a pretty good way of getting it all out there.

God bless you Mike and all the men and women who have taken up the pulaski... you are all my hero's.

Ye Ole Ranger

chinookcapt said...

Thanks for sharing. Our hearts go out to all, you are all heroes for doing what most will not.
God Bless
Dave Sumerlin
Montague CA

Anonymous said...

I'm not as blog savy as some of you young kids and found these additional blogs here by accident and wanted to pass along this info to others. I would encourage everyone to read Mike's follow-up blogs titled "Slightly Frustrated" and "S-61 Follow Up Commentary" located on the upper right hand side under Blog Archive. Mike, I truely hope you realize (which I know you do by the number of hits to this site)of the positive effect you're having on all of us out there. Any one of us (Helicopter Crewmember, Helicopter Cordinator, or Helicoter Manager) could have been in your shoes and I can't imagine any one of us doing as fine of job as you did under the circumstances. Thank you again for writing this down.

Anonymous said...


Thank you for taking the time and heartache to post this. Reading your blog gives each of us who serve on helitack the opportunity to visualize these events to some degree. If any of us that read this are ever in such a situation (Heaven Forbid!), then we will react better than we would have had we not read your account.

I was also on the Iron Complex, and was demobed about a week prior to the accident. May God comfort the families of those who were killed.

Thank you again for your efforts in writing this! It is a great service to all of us.

Pat Phillips

Anonymous said...

This accident is some thing that I will remember for a long time. Having lost 2 close friends from the Cramer fire and Krassel accident. I understand the wide array of emotions that one feels when some thing like this happens. Our helicopter had the honor of transporting the remains of the victims in this accident off H44 to Weaverville. My heart goes out to the friends and families of all those involved. God Bless

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much Mike for sharing this account. Our 18 year old son, Jonathan, was one of the men you were instrumental in helping to airlift out to medical help. Thank you, thank you!

Anonymous said...

That’s interesting that you had to remove this post. I’m a professional Los Angeles Car accident lawyer, I wonder if it would be something that could be handled legally. I would love to see the story again though, maybe you could post it as a picture so that the SE’s or government could not read it with their spiders.

Carol said...

This shocked me at the time I heard about it. My thoughts and prayers go to those who were affected by this incident.