REDDING, Calif. (CN) – A Sikorsky S-61 helicopter crashed into the Trinity National Forest just after take off, and caught fire rolling down rugged terrain, killing eight firefighters and the pilot.
Four others were seriously injured: two emerged on fire and a third went back to rescue a fourth. It is said to be the most deadly crash of a firefighting aircraft in California history, and one of the worst in the country.
The family of Scott Charlson is the first to sue those involved with the craft. They are represented by Todd Macaluso of Carlsbad and James Frantz of San Diego. The wrongful death complaint alleges design and manufacturing flaws and negligent maintenance. Defendants include Carson Helicopters, United Technologies Corp., Sikorsky Aircraft Corp. and General Electric. Punitive damages are sought.
Mascaluso said major components in the aircraft’s transmission may be to blame for the Aug. 5 crash, according to the Eureka Times-Standard. The National Transportation Safety Board’s preliminary report stated that the main rotor lost power.
Firefighters from Greyback Forestry of Ore., of which Charlson was a member, were called to the wild area of the Buckthorn fire when most N. Calif. firefighters were otherwise engaged. The 18,500 acre fire was only 25 percent contained the day of the crash, when exhausted firefighters caught a ride on a Carson Helicopter back to base camp.
The Buckhorn fire was part of the Iron Complex, a series of fires that burned for almost three months, charring over 100,000 acres in the Shasta-Trinity National Forest. A lightning storm caused the blaze.