The 1981 Sikorsky UH-60A that crashed and killed all four aboard Tuesday afternoon in Leesburg, Florida, was testing a new water bucket release system when the helicopter went down on undeveloped property at Leesburg International Airport (KLEE), the NTSB has confirmed to AIN.
According to witnesses, the helicopter—N9FH, which had previously seen military service with the U.S. Army—was flying for Brainerd Helicopters, doing business as Firehawk Helicopters, on a restricted-category airworthiness certificate when the crew apparently lost control of the fire bucket, leading to a sequence in which the tail rotor section separated in flight. The helicopter crashed at approximately 4 p.m. local time and the wreckage was consumed in a post-crash fire. The crash site was described as woody, swampy, and inaccessible.
Firehawk operates a fleet of 12 aircraft, including nine Sikorsky S-70/UH-60s, and has a long history of conducting both firefighting and research-and-development flight testing. The company was founded in 1973 and began flying Black Hawks in 1995. It is based in Leesburg and was one of several companies that earlier this month won exclusive use contracts to provide Type 1 helicopters to the U.S. Forest Service for the upcoming wildfire season.