Sunday, July 12, 2020

Bell UH-1H Iroquois, N623PB: Fatal accident occurred July 07, 2020 in Payson, Gila County, Arizona

This is preliminary information, subject to change, and may contain errors. Any errors in this report will be corrected when the final report has been completed. 

The National Transportation Safety Board did not travel to the scene of this accident.

Additional Participating Entities:

Federal Aviation Administration / Flight Standards District Office; Scottsdale, Arizona
Honeywell Aerospace; Phoenix, Arizona
United States Forest Service; Boise, Idaho
Airwest Helicopters; Glendale, Arizona 

Location: Payson, AZ
Accident Number: WPR20LA211
Date & Time: 07/07/2020, 1213 MST
Registration: N623PB
Aircraft: BELL UH1H
Injuries: 1 Fatal
Flight Conducted Under: Part 133: Rotorcraft Ext. Load

On July 7, 2020, about 1213 mountain standard time, a Bell/Garlick UH-1H helicopter, N623PB, was destroyed when it was involved in an accident near Payson, Arizona. The pilot was fatally injured. The helicopter was operated as a Title 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 133 external load flight.

The helicopter was owned by Airwest Helicopters LLC and operated by the United States Forest Service at the time of the accident. According to witnesses, the helicopter was transporting supplies using a long line for a hotshot firefighting crew that were repositioning on the ground. The pilot transported three loads to the new destination uneventfully prior to the accident and had been using an indirect route to the north to avoid a fire area (Figure 1). While transporting the fourth load, witnesses observed the helicopter begin to fly erratically while enroute to its destination. During this time, a witness stated that he observed the helicopter enter a high nose-up pitch attitude and the external payload began to swing. The helicopter then displayed irregular movements for several seconds before the external payload settled and the helicopter appeared to stabilize. However, after about 3 seconds, multiple witnesses observed the helicopter wobble and bank erratically before it entered a steep nose up attitude and then descended rapidly. The witnesses did not observe the helicopter on fire during the accident flight, nor did the pilot report any anomalies over the helicopter crew's common air-to-ground radio frequency or any other assigned frequencies for the fire.

The helicopter wreckage came to rest about 0.5 nm north of its drop off destination, oriented on a heading of 074° magnetic and was mostly consumed by postcrash fire. All major structural components of the helicopter were accounted for at the accident site. The helicopter's external payload was found 123 ft southeast of the main wreckage.

The wreckage was retained for further examination.

Aircraft and Owner/Operator Information

Aircraft Make: BELL
Registration: N623PB
Model/Series: UH1H
Aircraft Category: Helicopter
Amateur Built:No
Operator: Airwest Helicopters LLC
Operating Certificate(s) Held: Commuter Air Carrier (135); Rotorcraft External Load (133)
Operator Does Business As:
Operator Designator Code: XS9A

Meteorological Information and Flight Plan

Conditions at Accident Site: Visual Conditions
Condition of Light: Day
Observation Facility, Elevation: , 5156 ft msl
Observation Time: 1215 MST
Distance from Accident Site:
Temperature/Dew Point: 32°C / -6°C
Lowest Cloud Condition: Clear
Wind Speed/Gusts, Direction: 9 knots / 18 knots, 240°
Lowest Ceiling: None
Visibility: 10 Miles
Altimeter Setting: 30.18 inches Hg
Type of Flight Plan Filed: None
Departure Point: Payson, AZ (PAN)
Destination: Payson, AZ (PAN)

Wreckage and Impact Information

Crew Injuries: 1 Fatal
Aircraft Damage: Destroyed
Passenger Injuries: N/A
Aircraft Fire: On-Ground
Ground Injuries: N/A
Aircraft Explosion:None
Total Injuries: 1 Fatal
Latitude, Longitude: 34.271944, -111.527500

Those who may have information that might be relevant to the National Transportation Safety Board investigation may contact them by email, and any friends and family who want to contact investigators about the accident should email 

Pilot Bryan “BJ” Boatman

In a heroic move to save ground crews on the Polles Fire, a helicopter pilot reportedly maneuvered away Tuesday when he saw he would crash.

Bryan “BJ” Boatman, 37, with Airwest Aviation, was hauling supplies to hotshot crews working to contain the 570-acre fire west of Payson Tuesday afternoon.

He had reportedly been on the lighting-caused fire since shortly after it started July 3.

The fire, burning in the wilderness area, is only accessible by helicopter. Five helicopters have been hauling crews in and out, bring them water, food and other supplies and making water drops to help douse the flames.

Boatman, an experienced pilot from Glendale, was flying supplies on the north end of the fire line when, for unknown reasons, his helicopter crashed.

Rocky Gilbert, an operations chief on the fire, said that “… once he (Boatman) knew that his helicopter was going to be, go down, he pulled that away from where all the folks were and set that helicopter down in an area away from our firefighters.”

The helicopter caught fire when it crashed and nearby crews worked to put the fire out, he said.

On Wednesday, Gov. Doug Ducey ordered flags at all state buildings lowered to half-staff to honor Boatman.

“This tragic loss is a reminder of the ever-present dangers faced by those battling wildfires,” said Ducey. “As a helicopter pilot, Bryan Boatman was carrying out a service to the people of Arizona alongside the men and women fighting the Polles Fire. He performed his duty with honor and bravery, and it will be remembered as such by our state. My deepest condolences go out to Bryan’s family and loved ones. Our prayers are with them and all of Arizona’s wildland firefighters working day and night to keep us safe.”

Polles Fire Incident Commander John Pierson, with the Southwest Area Type 1 Incident Management Team, said they were notified of the crash at 12:22 p.m.

“The helicopter was on a mission to support boots on the ground,” he said.

He said, "This is one of the tragic days that we all do not want to have on our watch."

He said there were still 360 firefighters working on the fire and they are taking the steps to make sure they are doing well both mentally and physically after this tragedy.

“This is inherently a risky business that we are in,” he said. “We care deeply about their safety. They are our priority. Our No. 1 asset.”

Asked how Boatman’s wife was doing, Gila County Sheriff Adam Shepherd said as good as anyone in this situation.

He said every day that firefighters and officers go to work spouses must prepare for them not coming home given the danger of the work.

Pine-Strawberry Fire Chief said Boatman comes from a family of firefighters with his father retired from a Valley fire department.

A cousin of Boatmans said Boatman had been flying that helicopter in and out of Havasupai for the past five years, running supplies, but also taking civilian passengers.

Boatman is survived by his wife and 8-year-old child.

Morris said they quickly organized a ceremony to honor Boatman when his body was airlifted to the Tonto Natural Bridge. Park staff and emergency personnel on scene including those from the Department of Public Safety, Gila County Sheriff's Office, Forest Service and Pine-Strawberry Fire Department stood at attention. This was followed by a procession of emergency vehicles as his body was transported through Payson and on to the Valley. 

"He was a firefighting brother," Morris said. "He may have been a pilot and not a structure firefighter, but he was fighting a fire and protecting each and every individual in the county. And he paid a dear price for it."

An investigation is ongoing.

To make a donation to Boatman's family, visit


  1. BJ was the Chief Instructor at Airwest Aviation Academy when I got my helicopter license. He was a sharp guy and great to fly with. I take solace in the fact that he was doing something he loved when he passed.

  2. BJ was a fantastic pilot & a good man. His loss will be felt by many of us through the years.... We knew him, his wife, daughter, parents & siblings &..... He went doing what he truly loved to do... Flying. The only thing he loved more was his family.

  3. In words attributed to Leonardo Da Vinci himself and I quote: 'Once you have tasted flight, you will forever walk the earth with your eyes turned skyward. For there you have been, and there you will always long to return".