Preliminary Report: Jetranger Lost On Fire Mission
Bell 206B-III, Shelbyville, Texas, March 10, 2005–Brainerd Helicopter Service’s JetRanger, operated by the U.S. Forest Service, was substantially damaged when it crashed in a heavily wooded area in the Sabine National Forest. The ATP-rated pilot and two Forest Service crewmembers were killed. The VFR flight was supporting a prescribed fire, applying aerial ignition spheres over a forest of 50- to 60-foot-high trees. These missions are typically flown at 50 to 150 feet above the top of vegetation at 20 to 40 knots.
After 45 minutes of aerial ignition work, the machine dispensing the spheres jammed, and the helicopter returned to the helipad and shut down while the problem was resolved.
The helicopter then departed to resume the mission. The ignition specialist on board the aircraft reported that the helicopter was commencing firing operations. Then he made a distress call, “Mayday, mayday, mayday, we are going down.” No further communications were heard. Weather evidently was not a factor.