Thursday, August 20, 2020

Bell UH-1H Iroquois, N711GH: Fatal accident occurred August 19, 2020 near New Coalinga Municipal Airport (C80), Fresno County, California

Federal Aviation Administration / Flight Standards District Office; Fresno, California

Rotorcraft was participating in firefighting activities and made a hard landing.

Guardian Helicopters Inc

https://registry.faa.gov/N711GH

Date: 19-AUG-20
Time: 17:35:00Z
Regis#: N711GH
Aircraft Make: BELL
Aircraft Model: UH1H
Event Type: ACCIDENT
Highest Injury: FATAL
Total Fatal: 1
Aircraft Missing: No
Damage: SUBSTANTIAL
Activity: FIREFIGHTING
Flight Phase: MANEUVERING (MNV)
City: COALINGA
State: CALIFORNIA

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


Michael John Fournier

A pilot from Rancho Cucamonga fighting one of hundreds of wildfires in the state was killed Wednesday, August 19th, when his helicopter crashed near Coalinga in the Central Valley, authorities said.

The pilot, identified by the Fresno County Sheriff-Coroner Office on Thursday as Michael John Fournier, 52, a husband and father of two teen-aged girls, was contracted by Cal Fire to work a water-dropping mission on the Hills Fire in western Fresno County, according to Cal Fire.

The Hills Fire has been active for four days and as of early Thursday, had grown to 1,500 acres and was 35% contained, said Emily Harlow, spokesperson for Cal Fire.

The pilot was working with Guardian Helicopters, based in Fillmore, which had a contract with the state fire agency, Cal Fire, to provide emergency services on a call-when-needed basis, said Zoe Keliher, an investigator with the National Transportation Safety Board.

Fournier’s Bell UH-1H helicopter crashed in rugged terrain around 10 a.m. Wednesday, about 9 miles south of the city of Coalinga, said Fresno County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Tony Botti on Thursday, Aug. 20.

A 14-member search-and-rescue team spent more than six hours and used bulldozers in order to reach the crash site, west of Highway 33. The pilot was the only person on board the helicopter, Cal Fire reported.

The sheriff’s team draped the body with an American flag, Botti said. “Even for contracted pilots, we wanted to pay our respects to him so we put a flag over him,” he said.

Fournier was remembered Thursday by friends as a cross-fit athlete and former football star and coach from Charter Oak High School in Covina. He played on the 1985 CIF-SS championship team.

The news of his death was circulating Thursday among friends, teachers and coaches who are affiliated with the school district in the San Gabriel Valley.

“Everybody is super devastated for the family,” said Steve Smith, 51, a member of the championship team who like many on the squad, remained friends with Fournier 35 years later. “He has a 16-year-old and a 19-year-old,” Smith said, his voice trailing off.

Donations, as well as comforting posts to Fournier’s family, have been filling a GoFundMe page organized by his wife, LeAnne Fournier. The page says Mike Fournier was in a fatal helicopter crash on Aug. 19 and the funds will be used to support his wife and two daughters. As of 2 p.m. Thursday, donations reached $37,500.

“He was loved and liked by everyone who met him; it was impossible to resist his kindness and warmth,” posted Olivia Anderson. Friends and former colleagues called him “a true hero” and a “brave man.”

Craig Evans, 52, who also played football with Fournier at Charter Oak High and currently teaches physical education at Royal Oak Middle School in Covina, said his friend shared with him his passion to become a helicopter pilot when they were in high school.

Evans said Fournier, a professional helicopter pilot for more than 20 years, had worked for utility companies, hoisting workers to tops of electrical towers. He recently began contracting with Cal Fire to fight wildfires.

In a phone conversation just two weeks ago, Evans said, Fournier was excited about working on wildfires.

“He was telling me how he was moving into firefighting. He knew the risks of flying. He flew all the way until he couldn’t fly anymore,” Evans said on Thursday.

https://www.dailybulletin.com

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