Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Aircraft narrowly lead fatalities list in wildland fire study




Retardant bombers and helitack teams might be safer if they talked more with the wildland firefighters they’re defending on the ground, according to a new study by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Aircraft accidents are the leading cause of death in forest fires by a slight margin, the study found. The category accounted for 26 percent of fatalities between 2000 and 2013.

Tied for second place were vehicle incidents (including rollovers and being hit by a vehicle) at 23 percent, and medical events such as heart attacks at 23 percent. The fourth leading cause was burn-overs or entrapment by the forest fire itself, at 15 percent.

“One thing we would encourage is more communication with people on the ground,” said Mary O’Connell, one of the lead authors of the study. “Tragically in aviation, the aviation component of a firefighting group communicates mainly amongst itself. We encourage expanding the definition of crew to not just the cockpit or tower, so we’re drawing in help from all areas that the pilots might not be aware of otherwise.”

O’Connell said ground firefighters on the scene might provide better advice on how winds shift around a water-dipping pond or obstructions at a landing zone.

“Firefighting always involves a diverse group of agencies, and sometimes that group isn’t totally united,” O’Connell said. “You haven’t trained together, so you’re not a well-oiled machine. That requires more attention paid to activities and operations.”

Dan Snyder of Missoula-based Neptune Aviation has seen a preliminary version of the study. He said it reinforces an effort the wildfire aviation industry has been working on for several years.

“More communication never hurts – that’s always true,” Snyder said. “The biggest thing in aerial firefighting now is the Safety Management System, or SMS, that’s come along in the last five years.”

SMS is a method of reviewing an entire organization, government or private, for how each activity affects safety.

“It takes in everything from executive management to pilot decisions in the cockpit,” Snyder said. “It puts everything through a risk analysis centered around the idea of safety.”

To get their statistics for the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health report, O’Connell and co-researcher Corey Butler gleaned several different state and federal data sets of workplace injuries and fatalities.

They also expanded some categories to better classify deaths that show up in one set but not another.

In the case of aviation-related fatalities, they combined aircraft crash incidents with deaths of smokejumpers or helitack firefighters, whose planes may not have had any reportable problems.

The study looked at 298 wildland firefighter fatalities over the 13-year period. They found 41 aviation-related events that killed 78 people. About a quarter of those involved some kind of mechanical failure in the aircraft, while another quarter was attributed to the pilot’s loss of control.

Private contractors employed 42 of the 78 aviation victims, followed by the federal government (15), state agencies (10), ground contractors (7) and the military (4).

California was the site of a quarter of the deaths, with eight occurring in Nevada and seven in Idaho.

The study was limited by several factors. The authors said they weren’t able to reliably gather information on aviation deaths that might have occurred on training missions, maintenance or transit to or from a fire.

They also had difficulty determining the total population of wildland firefighters, because of the variety of local fire departments, prison inmate crews and interrelated state agencies that all provide help at a forest fire.

And perhaps most critically, they found it hard to devise a good measuring stick to see what trends might flow from their statistics.

For example, they found the number of aviation-related fatalities was higher between 2000 and 2006 (28) than 2007 and 2013 (13), but that straddles a period when the federal government briefly grounded most of its large air tankers after a series of fatal crashes in 2004.

Just over half the incidents involved airplanes, with helicopters making up 45 percent. Causes ranged from engine failure to midair collision to failure of rappelling gear in a helitack mission.

Original article can be found here: http://ravallirepublic.com

Likely dead, pilot Wallace Thrasher won't be prosecuted on '80s drug charge, feds say




Thirty years after accusing a Bland County pilot of flying illegal drugs into Southwest Virginia, prosecutors have dropped all charges against Wallace S. Thrasher.

U.S. Attorney Anthony Giorno, citing unspecified evidence that Thrasher is dead, notified the court of its intention to end the case last week.

U.S. District Judge Glen Conrad signed the dismissal order Monday. That will likely be the last entry in the case, which was opened on Feb. 28, 1985, to call Thrasher to account for an alleged drug conspiracy.

Authorities have said Thrasher flew marijuana from Belize to the United States during the 1980s. Court papers filed in Florida years ago said he died in a plane crash in Belize on Nov. 4, 1985, but some federal authorities in Roanoke suspected he survived. While calling him a fugitive, they stayed ready to prosecute should he surface.

In the meantime, Thrasher’s disappearance helped lead to one of the nation’s most successful drug investigations, culminating in the 1986 conviction of Gerardo Caballero, the son-in-law of Roberto Suarez, Bolivia’s one-time “King of Cocaine.”

Shortly before the crash in Belize, a plane owned by Thrasher crashed in Carroll County, leaving one man dead and scattering 570 pounds of marijuana over Fancy Gap Mountain, according to news reports in The Roanoke Times.

In Roanoke, authorities upgraded their criminal complaint naming Thrasher in Roanoke federal court to an indictment in 1987. But the case never went to court because authorities did not have Thrasher.

The decision to now end the case did not spring from any new information or recent event, but a routine open-case review, said Brian McGinn, spokesman for the U.S. attorney’s office.

“Despite exhaustive efforts by the United States Marshal and other state and federal law enforcement agencies, Thrasher has not been located or arrested and he remains a fugitive. The available evidence suggests that Thrasher is deceased,” Giorno wrote.

Even if Thrasher is alive, he would be difficult to convict because witnesses would not be available and too much time has gone by, Giorno said.

Source:  http://www.roanoke.com

ROANOKE, Va. -  A known drug smuggler from southwest Virginia had a federal indictment from the late 80s dropped Monday. The reason why? The feds now officially say they think he's dead.

In 1984, a plane owned by Wallace Thrasher crashed in Carroll County. On board were a dead pilot and hundreds of pounds of marijuana. A drug ring was broken up by the U.S. Attorney's Office in Roanoke and even a drug lord from South America was convicted. But Thrasher was never found. He was charged in 1985 after investigators tied the plane to Thrasher. He was indicted in 1987 when it was thought he still might be alive.

On July 27, U.S. Attorney Anthony Giorno filed a motion to dismiss a smuggling charge, saying he now believes Thrasher is dead. Monday, a district judge signed the order without definitive proof of what ever happened to him.

"Even if Thrasher is not deceased, the passage of time and unavailability of witnesses would make it difficult to prosecute the case effectively," Giorno wrote in his filing.

"Upon review of my filed motion, there really is nothing I can add by way of public comment," Giorno responded to an email seeking additional information. "Much as I would like to discuss this matter, I don't have anything to say publicly beyond the language in the motion."

In 2000, former WDBJ7 Anchor Keith Humphry filed a report on the Thrasher saga that centered around his wife, Olga, his lawyers (some who went to prison themselves,) and even a farm in Bath County that was the drop-off site of many plane loads of pot and cocaine.

Source:  http://www.wdbj7.com

NTSB Identification: ATL85FA011
The docket is stored on NTSB microfiche number 26913.
Accident occurred Wednesday, October 17, 1984 in FANCY GAP, VA
Aircraft: Beech QU-22A 1074, registration: N83475
Injuries: 1 Fatal.
NTSB investigators either traveled in support of this investigation or conducted a significant amount of investigative work without any travel, and used data obtained from various sources to prepare this aircraft accident report.

AT ABOUT THE 2,800 FT LEVEL THE ACFT FLEW INTO THE MOUNTAINOUS TERRAIN WHICH WAS OBSCURED BY CLOUDS. WITNESSES OBSERVED 2 PREVIOUS ATTEMPTS TO FLY OVER THE RISING TERRAIN UNDER THE CLOUD LAYER. DEPARTURE AND DEST ARPT, PLT IDENTITY, AND ACFT OWNER ARE ALL UNKNOWN. LAW ENFORCEMENT OFFICERS ESTIMATE THAT APRX 1,000 LBS OF MARIJUANA WERE ABOARD THE ACFT. MOST OF THE WRECKAGE WAS DESTROYED BY POST CRASH FIRE. THE ACFT WAS ORIGINALLY MANUFACTURED AS A DRONE FOR THE U.S. ARMY. IT WAS SIMILAR TO A BEECH DEBONAIR, A TOTAL OF 12 WERE BUILT.

The National Transportation Safety Board determines the probable cause(s) of this accident as follows:

FLIGHT INTO KNOWN ADVERSE WEATHER..ATTEMPTED..PILOT IN COMMAND 
SELF-INDUCED PRESSURE..PILOT IN COMMAND 
WEATHER CONDITION..CLOUDS 

Contributing Factors:
TERRAIN CONDITION..MOUNTAINOUS/HILLY 

Pilot who flew ‘cheaters’ banner was asked to leave Mansfield Municipal Airport (1B9), Massachusetts

The pilot who towed an aerial banner over Gillette Stadium last week that taunted Patriots players and fans about the “Deflategate” controversy says he was kicked off a local airport’s property following the aerial stunt.

But airport staff said that the request to leave the airfield was merely made in jest.

Ashley Chalmers, owner of Jersey Shore Aerial Advertising, said he was paid by a group of New York Jets fans to tow the banner over the Foxborough stadium on the first day of training camp. The banner read, “Cheaters Look Up!” It was signed by @jetsfanmedia.

After circling the stadium, Chalmers landed his plane at the Mansfield Municipal Airport, which is 10 miles from Gillette. While he was packing up the banner and getting ready to fly back to his company’s headquarters in New Jersey, a worker at the airport drove up to Chalmers and told him he should leave the grounds immediately.

“He said to me, ‘Leave now, and don’t come back,’” Chalmers said. “I thought it was comical. I thought he was joking at first.”

But then, Chalmers said, he realized there was a serious tone in the man’s voice.

“The guy was mad,” Chalmers said. “But I don’t know how much weight that holds.”

Kelley Dinneen, president of King Aviation Mansfield, which manages the airport for the town, confirmed that Chalmers was asked to leave once he touched down.

But she said the statement was made “tongue in cheek.”

“I do know that he was told to pack up and get rolling,” said Dinneen, adding that the airport was expecting additional planes to land, and they needed to make room on the runway. “But it wasn’t in a mean way.”

Dinneen said she was upset about the content of the message that Chalmers had attached to his plane.

She said “Cheaters Look Up!” was a form of bullying, and Chalmers’s company allegedly lied to airport workers before he flew from New Jersey into Mansfield, where he hooked the banner to his plane before taking off for his mission.

“We asked him what he was towing. When it was asked, the person on the phone said it wouldn’t be anything against the Patriots,” she said. “It is a little annoying that we were lied to. If we knew what the banner was ahead of time, we would have said find another airport.”

She called the banner — and the Jets fans who paid for it — childish.

“They should be focused on the positive aspects of the game, not negativity,” she said.

Dinneen said her attitude toward the banner’s content isn’t limited to anti-Patriots messages.

“That’s for anybody” who wants to display something negative, she said. “It’s just not appropriate. It’s supposed to be a fun thing.”

Chalmers insisted he did not lie to airport workers, but he also said the airport “can’t regulate me for the content of a banner ... and they can’t censor me.”

Chalmers said he wants Patriots fans to remember one thing: Don’t shoot the messenger, he was only doing his job.

“I’m just an advertising company. I’m not a sports guy, so I don’t really get it when people get so passionate and pissed off. I couldn’t be any more neutral,” Chalmers said.

Story and photo:  https://www.bostonglobe.com