Incident Name: Fridley Fire, Gallatin National Forest, although not actually fighting the fire when they crashed
Date: August 31, 2001, 0905 hours
Personnel: 3 lives lost
Agency/Organization: Columbia Helicopters, Inc of Aurora OR under contract with the FS
Position: aerial firefighters
Rich Hernandez, 37, pilot, was from FL but had been living in the Lake Tahoe area on the NV-CA border
Santi Arovitx, 28, co-pilot, originally from Spain and living in Hillsboro, OR
Kip Krigbaum, 45, crew chief, of Emmett, ID
A firefighting helicopter owned by Columbia Helicopters, Inc crashed in the Gallatin National Forest on 8/31/01, killing all three crew members aboard. The helicopter and crew were under contract with the Forest Service to fight the Fridley Fire, but the crew was not on a contracted run when the crash occurred. The helicopter had just undergone routine maintenance and was taking a short flight when it crashed. The NTSB found the probable cause to be the loss of control during cruise/climb flight for undetermined reasons.
The crash site on a ranch was in a ravine along Conlin Road, which was easily accessible from the road and was near a creek that runs through the ravine; about 8 miles south of the Fridley Fire helibase; about three miles south of Emigrant at the base of Emigrant Peak, between Livingston and Yellowstone National Park.
- Concise Information from NTSB, USFS, AAP and WLF Staff research:
- August 31, 2001
- Emigrant MT
- 3 killed: Richard Hernandez, Santi Arouitx, Kip Krigbaum
- Kawasaki Vertol 107-II
- Loss of control during cruise/climb flight for undetermined reasons.
- FAA Registration #N186CH
- NTSB # SEA01MA163
- NTSB: Probable Cause (html) | Probable Cause (232 K pdf)
The loss of control during cruise/climb flight for undetermined reasons.
- NTSB: Factual Report (108 K pdf)
- NTSB: Full Narrative (html)
- For more information, in case it becomes available, consult the NTSB Lookup Utility, use NTSB # SEA01MA163
- Fire chopper crashes, killing 3
August 31, 2001| Online Article
Assigned to Montana's biggest blaze, 2-engine craft goes down between Livingston and Yellowstone
HELENA, Mont. -- A twin-engine firefighting helicopter assigned to the largest wildfire in Montana crashed in a brushy ravine on a ranch yesterday, killing all three crewmen.
The chopper assigned to the 25,500-acre Fridley fire crashed at about 9 a.m. in the Emigrant Peak area between Livingston and Yellowstone National Park, fire and Federal Aviation Administration officials said.
"Firefighting is a dangerous business," said Warren Bielenberg, information officer for the Fridley fire. "We'd been lucky so far. We've got 1,200 people involved with this thing. They've been here 10 days and there was one injury, before today."
Later in the day, a wildfire some 340 miles north swept into Glacier National Park, Montana's crown jewel.
The crash killed pilot Rich Hernandez, 37, who was from Florida but had been living in the Lake Tahoe area on the Nevada-California border; co-pilot Santi Arovitx, 28, originally from Spain and living in Hillsboro, Ore.; and crew chief Kip Krigbaum, 45, of Emmett, Idaho.
The names were released by Columbia Helicopters Inc., the Oregon owner of the helicopter.
The helicopter went down during a routine maintenance flight to check its condition, Columbia spokesman Jon Lazzaretti said from Aurora, Ore., the Portland suburb where the company is based.
Although the helicopter was not actively fighting the Fridley fire at the time of the crash, a bucket used to drop water on the fire was attached, Lazzaretti said.
The Vertol 107, with a 44-foot fuselage and a rotor at each end, was among the largest of the 15 helicopters assigned to the blaze. The chopper was a Boeing model manufactured by Kawasaki under license. (More at the link...)
- Fire helicopter crashes: 3 dead
September 01, 2001| Online Article
LIVINGSTON — Investigators are still uncertain why a helicopter crashed near Emigrant Friday killing all three men on board.
The helicopter was part of a contracted fleet fighting the Fridley fire, but apparently was on a routine maintenance mission and not battling the wildfire, when it went down at about 9 a.m., Park County Sheriff Clark Carpenter said. It crashed about three miles south of Emigrant at the base of Emigrant Peak, he said. The Associated Press reported the three killed were pilot Rich Hernandez, 37, who was from Florida but had been living in the Lake Tahoe area on the Nevada-California border; co-pilot Santi Arovitx, 28, originally from Spain and living in Hillsboro, Ore.; and crew chief Kip Krigbaum, 45, of Emmett, Idaho.The helicopter was owned by Columbia Helicopters, Inc., of Aurora, Ore. The crew had been fighting fires since April, said Michael Fahey, a Columbia spokesman.
Matt Glasgow, a spokesman for the National Forest Service, said the helicopter and crew were under contract with the Forest Service to fight the Fridley fire, but the crew was not on a contracted run when the crash occurred. Dave Schmitt, a fire information officer for the Fridley fire, said the helicopter had just undergone routine maintenance and was taking a short flight when the crash occurred.
The crash was not within the fire’s 25,500-acre perimeter, Schmitt said. Carpenter said the crash started another small fire that was extinguished by the Park County Rural Fire Department with help from a Forest Service helicopter that dumped a bucket of water on the site. He said the blaze consumed about an acre.
Carpenter said the crash site was in a ravine along Conlin Road, which was easily accessible from the road, he said, and was near a creek that runs through the ravine. Carpenter said all three were dead at the scene.
Park County deputies have secured the crash scene, Carpenter said. Glasgow said an investigator from the National Transportation Safety Board was en route and will determine the cause of the accident. The crash occurred about 6 miles south of the Fridley fire helibase. Annie Card, a fire information officer for the Fridley fire, said the fleet includes 15 helicopters.
Michele Severson, a personal banker with the American Bank of Montana branch in Livingston, said a fund has been set up for the families of the men who died. Donations to the Columbia Firefighters Memorial can be delivered to the bank at 120 N. 2nd St. in Livingston, or can be sent to the bank at Box 2290, Livingston MT, 59047-2290
- Copter company described as safety-minded
September 1, 2001 | Online Article
The firefighting helicopter that crashed in the Gallatin National Forest Friday, killing all three crew members aboard, was owned by an Oregon corporation that operates in remote areas around the world and is known for having a good safety record.
Employees of Columbia Helicopters Inc. were hit hard by news of the crash. “Right now I’m pretty much numb,” said Jon Lazzaretti, a vice president of marketing with the company based in Aurora, Ore., about 25 miles south of Portland. The dead were identified as pilot Rich Hernandez, 37; co-pilot Santi Arovitx; and crew chief Kip Krigbaum, 45.
Lazzaretti, a former pilot himself, said he knew Hernandez and Krigbaum, and considered both as friends. He had worked with Hernandez. “He was a good friend and a good pilot,” Lazzaretti said.
The company, founded in 1957, specializes in remote work — dousing wildfires, hauling timber, and carrying oil-drilling rigs into South American jungles and other remote areas. Its Web site notes that it flew famine relief missions for the Agency for International Development in Sudan.
The company has expanded to include more than 30 aircraft and about 800 employees. Its helicopters can be seen every wildfire season in the West, hovering over the flames while emptying large buckets of water or dropping chemical retardant onto the flames.
Columbia Helicopters had been in the firefighting business for more than three decades. There are 15 other Columbia Helicopters working on fires in Montana, California and Washington, Lazzaretti said. The crew involved in Friday’s fatal accident was released from a fire near Riggins, Idaho, on Aug. 23 and transferred to the Fridley Fire on Aug. 24, he said.
Its current fleet consists of three models of helicopters for fighting wildfires. A Vertol 107-II, built in 1963, was the type that crashed. The wrecked helicopter was produced by Kawaskai; Columbia also owns the same style of helicopter built by Boeing.
Lazaretti described the Vertol 107-II is a versatile helicopter. The twin-rotor and twin-engine helicopters are used by the company in firefighting, logging, construction work and to move oil rigs overseas, he said. When used for firefighting, the Vertols may haul a bucket that is capable of carrying 11,000 gallons of water. The bucket is hooked to a sling under the helicopter.
Columbia Helicopters also works for the timber industry, using its choppers to move logs at the end of lines up to 350 feet long. Lazzaretti said following the deaths, all of the company’s helicopter crews were given the option of standing down on Friday. All the crews that were not working on active fires, and specifically those working logging operations, stood down “out of respect,” he said. The crash did not force Columbia Helicopters to ground any other machines, Lazzaretti said. Columbia Helicopter’s equipment is routinely inspected and maintained, he said.
A team including Columbia Helicopter’s head of maintenance, chief pilot and head of safety flew to Montana shortly after the wreck, Lazzaretti said. “(They are going) for the simple reason that they want to find out what was going on,” Lazzaretti said. Lazzaretti could not confirm the Gallatin National Forest’s announcement that the helicopter was on a “routine maintenance mission” when the accident occurred.
“We don’t have a confirmation from any of our people that’s what they were doing,” Lazzaretti said. “It’s bucket was on under the aircraft at the time of the accident. That would lead one to believe that maybe they were not on a maintenance flight, but we don’t know that.” Firefighting puts people in unnecessary danger, Lazzaretti said. The solution is for land managers to endorse programs to reduce the fuel load that fed the fires which have ravaged the West the past few years, he said.
“From a personal standpoint, it’s been a long fire season. The last couple of years have been pretty difficult seasons,” Lazzaretti said. “Any one with half a brain wouldn’t have to be doing this if the forests were managed properly. It’s really a shame.
“People say ‘They are making money,’ but it doesn’t pay for this. We just lost three very good people. It doesn’t have to be that way.” Rhett Flater, director of American Helicopter Society International, said the company has a reputation for safety. “It has a very solid reputation,” said Flater. “They are leaders and they actively promote safety.”
- Oregon Firefighter Memorial Database: Richard Hernandez | Santi Arouitx | Kip Krigbaum
- Senate Congressional Record, Volume 147 Part 12
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