Investigation Into Fatal Helicopter Crash Continues - KTRE.com | Lufkin and Nacogdoches, Texas

03/11/05 - Nacogdoches

Investigation Into Fatal Helicopter Crash Continues

by Donna McCollum

The investigation into Thursday's helicopter crash in the Sabine National Forest near Center continues. Three people were killed when the chopper went down while assisting with a controlled burn for the U.S. Forest Service.

One of the victims was a Hemphill native, 54 year old Charles Edgar. He was the fire management officer for the Sabine National Forest, a place where he grew up and lived all his life.

John Greeno, 51, Bald Mountain heliport manager with the Mi-Wok Ranger District on the Stanislaus National Forest in California and pilot Jose' Victor Gonzalez also died in the crash.

USFS law enforcement Captain David Norsworthy guards the sight where his friend died. About one fourth mile from a forest service road just east of Shelbyville is where the chopper went down.

Only investigators with the Federal Aviation Administration are allowed down the road. They'll be joined by forest service investigators and a team from the National Transportation Safety Board. The NTSB is leading the investigation on the incident site.

They'll be reviewing one of the most efficient ways of conducting control burns from the air. Ping pong balls are dropped from the air. A chemical reaction causes them to burn after they hit the ground. Dropping the fuel from the air speeds up the process of burning thousands of acres.

The Bell Model 206-b3 helicopter was operating under contract with the forest service through Brainerd Company in Brainerd, Minn., to conduct prescribed burning operations in Texas.

When pilots conduct controlled burns from the air they must fly at the low altitude of 500 feet or less. The risks increase at the low altitude.

U.S. Forest Service Public Affairs Officer said Gay Ippolito said, "Safety is our biggest concern. We do safety checks before, during and after a flight."

The contract pilot apparently had some warning that something was wrong. According to the Shelby County Sheriff's Department a witness heard a mayday radio transmission before the helicopter crashed.

The tragedy is difficult for the U.S. Forest Service. Employees refer to one another as their second family. Ippolito said, "Charles was a good and devoted employee. It's very difficult whenever a tragedy like this occurs. We also regret the deaths of the pilot and the other passenger."

This is the third U.S. Forest service fatal accident in the East Texas region in the last two years.

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