tv Why Planes Crash MSNBC September 2, 2016 11:00pm-12:01am PDT
the next thing i remember is looking up and seeing nothing but fire. >> helicopters in serious trouble. a rescue mission turns catastrophic when unpredictable winds push a chopper to its limits. >> i would have thought we're watching these guys roll to their deaths. >> a gorgeous summer day in new york city turns ugly when a sightseeing helicopter collides with a small plane. >> nobody could survive that. it was too quick, too fast, too devastating. >> oh, my god! firefighters flee a mountaintop to avoid lightning, only to fly into a disaster they didn't see coming.
>> right then i knew that this isn't supposed to happen like this. >> our dramatic animations take you inside these complex machines and illustrate what led to horrific accidents. >> and then all of the sudden it's not an airplane or a helicopter, it's a paperweight. and it will just drop out of the sky. >> helicopters are amazing feats of engineering. they can lift off without a runway, fly in any direction, and most important, they can hover. >> being able to hover, it's why we all do it. it's one of the most incredible experiences that you can have. >> this superior maneuverability makes them an invaluable
resource in extreme conditions. >> helicopters are a great tool for getting into high risk environments, whether it's a mountaintop or a sea state or even on top of a building. >> but there is a price to pay for that remarkable access. >> along with that capability comes higher levels of demands and expectations. pilots must be aware not only of the machine's limitation, but their own limitation so that they stay out of harm's way. >> because when things do go wrong, the situation can turn deadly in an instant. a helicopter rescue crew on a daring mission underestimates the power of mother nature and ends up needing a rescue of its own.
>> what i'm thinking is basically do everything you can to survive the crash. >> may 30, 2002. it's a beautiful spring morning in portland, oregon. reporter pat dooris is wrapping up a morning news briefing when he gets word of a breaking story happening high on the slopes of mt. hood. >> the information that we had is that there were climbers down. there were some in a crevasse, there were probably fatalities and there was a rescue being put together to go get them. we knew it was going to be a big deal right away. >> dooris and his helicopter news team are immediately dispatched to the scene to report the story. they learn that nine climbers in the process of summiting the 11,240 foot dormant volcano have fallen into the bergschrund crevasse. >> there are some people starting to walk down a little now. my first impression looking out the window is all i could see was the mountain. it's when i looked in the monitor, it was the little slit that was the crevasse that everybody had fallen into.
>> this deep ravine happens when warm temperatures cause mt. hood's seasonal snow to separate from its permanent snowpack. now it's a trap for nine climbs from three different groups who have slid hundreds of feet down a slick sheet of icy spring snow and crash landed in the chasm. >> there were three teams of climbers on mt. hood that day that were involved in this accident. one that had just summited and they were coming down. the guys that had roped themselves together for the descent, and they had not attached themselves to the mountain with anything. which is not entirely bad. but the rule is the top guy can't fall. because if the top guy falls, he is going to yank everybody off. of course, that's exactly what happened. all of them slid into a crevasse. >> when portland mountain rescue
>> when portland mountain rescue volunteer steve rollins and his team arrive at the accident site to render aid, they find that three climbers are dead. and several more are injured. >> it was actually a pretty chaotic scene. we had four seriously injured climbers that needed to be evacuated. obviously our focus was on getting the injured out first. >> nearly 5,000 feet below in the parking lot of the timberline lodge, the sheriff's department sets up a base of operations to coordinate the rescue effort. they call in two helicopter teams to carry out the medical evacuations. the oregon army national guard and the air force reserve 304th rescue squadron based in portland. air force pararescueman or pj andrew canfield is dispatched with the 304th. >> pararescuemen are basically an all-purpose rescue and
recovery specialist. our job is to be able to go anywhere in the world to recover anyone who is in need. >> loaded into a pave hawk hh-60g helicopter, andrew and his six-person team are tasked with flying up to the crevasse to pick up a severely injured climber. >> it was a crystal clear blue sky day. we did kind of an observation pass over the area to get familiar with kind of the lay of the land up there. >> with the weather and wind conditions seemingly stable, the pave hawk transitions into a hover so one of the pararescuemen can rappel down to the mountain. >> the winds were coming out of one direction. we put our nose into that wind, rock solid hover, put our pj on the ground. once he was on the ground, he disconnected and we flew off and we waited for him to call. >> the situation on the ground is tense for steve rollins and his team as they struggle to prepare the patient. meanwhile, the massive machine
maneuvers overhead. >> working under the helicopters is very stressful. you have about an 80-mile-an-hour rotor wash coming down on you. the sound is deafening. even being right next to somebody and cupping your hands around their ear, it can be difficult to communicate. it was actually a pretty risky scenario just due to the number of people in the surrounding vicinity of the crevasse. >> moments later, the patient is ready, and the pave hawk gets into position. andrew canfield tethered to the aircraft with a gunner's belt prepares to receive the injured climber aboard. >> i am positioned in the right-hand door looking down the edge of the aircraft and watching the pj on the ground. >> steve rollins and his team are stationed nearby. >> i had one of my rescuers actually assisting with loading the patient. at that point, i was right underneath the tail rotor
approximately. and i could look right up and see the hoist operation. >> and the pj grabs the cable, hooks up the patient, gets the tag line ready to go. so everything is good on the ground, we're in solid hover and we're ready to start to lift the survivor. >> that's when it happens. >> i think it was maybe a change in the rotor wash or something that got my attention. but i looked up and i noticed the helicopter twisting in kind of an odd direction. >> the little rotor on the tail that keeps the body of the helicopter from spinning around went to its maximum power and didn't have enough power to stop the rotation. so the body of the helicopter began rotating around and around and it lost control. >> viewing the dramatic scene from his news helicopter, pat dooris instantly knows the pave hawk is in trouble. >> i saw the tail just kind of make a really strange movement. and the nose came around. and i remember thinking they're going to hit the mountain. >> the aircraft descended very
quickly. kind of feel your stomach kind of up in your throat. that's when i knew that there was something very wrong. >> everything seemed to slow down. and it was kind of almost like a dream. i saw the helicopter drop down almost below me and the refueling nozzle hit the snow. and at that point i knew it was going to crash. >> coming up -- >> when i saw him start to roll, i felt sick to my stomach. because i thought we're watching these guys roll to their deaths.
is attached to the open side door of the aircraft as it starts to go down. >> my initial thought was to actually get out of the helicopter. so to bail out. >> he releases his tether and goes to jump, but it's too late. the helicopter is about to crash. >> at that point, i basically just got as flat as possible and braced for impact. >> his crewmate releases the tether connected to the injured climber. seconds later, the helicopter collides with mt. hood. >> it hit the side of the mountain. the rotor blades shattered and went in every direction. >> crouched on the ridge, yards from the listing chopper, mountain rescue volunteer steve rollins has only seconds to react. >> the rotor sheared off. and it went from deafeningly loud to dead silent. i thought briefly of jumping in the crevasse, not knowing if it was going to explode. >> instead, it does something else entirely. pat dooris, observing the scene from a kgw portland news chopper
watches in disbelief. >> it was the craziest thing ever. not only did it crash, but then it started to roll. i felt sick to my stomach because i was very conscious that we probably had a pretty big audience watching, including probably some of their family members. and i thought, we're watching these guys roll to their deaths. oh, that is horrible. good lord. i didn't think there was any way that anybody could survive that. and then i started thinking, and now we're going to have to start the process all over again to have somebody come rescue the rescuers. >> inside the helicopter, the crew is alive but being brutally thrashed around in the tumbling chopper. >> what i'm thinking is do everything you can to survive the crash. >> untethered, andrew canfield holds on to a crewmate for dear life. but the pull of the rolling chopper rips them apart.
>> the centrifugal fours was to great, it just launched me out. >> the thought in my head when i was first ejected out of the helicopter was, oh, thank god. i'm free. i'm out. then i realized, i was downhill from the helicopter and it was quickly overtaking me. >> second later, the 22,000 pound machine rolls right over the top of him. >> the way i could describe it is if you were laying in the middle of train tracks and a freight train went over you. >> the weight of the rolling helicopter crushes him into the layer of snow beneath him, cushioning the impact.
amazingly, canfield survives with no major trauma, as do his crewmates. >> i actually sat there and watched all the crewmembers get out of the helicopter. and they were all walking and talking. and so i realized that, okay, everybody else on the helicopter is okay. >> the rescue operation is reset. and within hours all the injured climbers and flight crew are brought down from the mountain. shortly after, a military inquiry is opened into the cause of the crash. investigators look to one of the fundamentals of rotor wing aviation. they check how much power the pave hawk had available to hover. >> when helicopters are in forward flight, the rotor disc acts much more like a wing. it has airflow across the top of it. it's a more conventional type of flight. >> the big change is when you transition into a hover. all of a sudden, you are not flying through the air anymore. you're taking air and driving it through the rotor system and creating lift. that requires an incredible amount of power. >> in certain conditions, more power is needed to keep a helicopter up in the air. if the aircraft is overloaded,
if the air temperature is high, or if it's flying through thin air at high elevation. >> if you have not taken into account those factors, it's not an airplane or a helicopter. it's a paperweight. and it will just drop out of the sky. >> according to andrew canfield, the crew was aware going in that with the thin air at the mountain's high elevation, the pave hawk would have to be operating right at its power margin. to compensate, the pilot tries to take advantage of weather patterns on the mountain and steers the pave hawk into the wind. >> when you're in a hover or if you're coming in for a landing and you're low state of energy, you always try to fly into the wind. because that wind at your nose actually provides additional lift. >> but relying on mountain winds for extra lift proves to be a critical miscalculation. >> the winds help the helicopter initially produce lift. but if there is the least bit of
variation in wind, you can erode a very razor thin margin, and in this case, that's what happened. >> as soon as that wind kind of shifted, we went from having a 30-knot headwind to a 30-knot tailwind. >> when this happens, the power demand on the helicopter instantly spikes. the engines max out, causing the rotors to lose speed and droop. the helicopter loses lift and begins to fall. >> there was nowhere for the pilots to nose down and fly out. and so they had to do the best they could, which was basically to avoid crashing on top of many people that were on the mountain. >> when you watch that video, it's obvious that the pilot starts to basically go downhill, figuring that if he can get down into cleaner air, he may regain that lift. unfortunately, as he settles out, part of aircraft contacted the snowfield, and the aircraft self-destructed. >> when the military releases its findings, the report states that the mishap crew either
lacked an understanding of or did not adequately consider the effects of unpredictable mountain winds on flying performance when selecting a method for executing the survivor recovery. furthermore, the helicopter's close proximity to the mountain left the crew with no escape route once the helicopter began to lose lift. >> one of the cardinal rules of flying in the mountains is always have an exit, preferably three. if you don't have one, then you are banking everything on the fact that the helicopter will perform exactly the way you want, but if you don't have a way to be able to move out of that situation, then you've gotten yourself into a corner. coming up -- >> nobody could survive that. it was too quick, too fast, too devastating.
august 8, 2009. it's a stunning summer day in new york city, and tourists from around the world are out and about, enjoying the sights. captain ken corcoran is a tour boat operator and remembers the day well. at around 11:50 that morning, his vessel was heading north on the hudson river as they approached the end of their statue of liberty tour. >> august 8, 2009, was a beautiful day. we had about 250 passengers that day, maybe a little bit more. the atmosphere was great. everybody had plenty of room, great weather, great opportunity to take great pictures. >> across the river, standing on the manhattan shoreline in the hudson river park, local resident yvonne morrow is taking advantage of the weather to lead a walking tour of the waterfront. >> i spend a lot of time on the waterfront. you're out on the edge of the
pier, and you're right on the water. it's just very pleasant. about 20, 25 people met us on christopher street. and we walked north slowly. >> some 20 blocks north, five italian tourists are at the 30th street heliport. they're about to take off on a 12-minute helicopter tour showcasing the new york city skyline. 32-year-old jeremy clark is at the controls. >> new york on the ground is one thing. but new york from the air is a different thing. and so this basic helicopter tour was going to take them down the hudson river so they could see the skyline, the tall buildings, and then over the statue of liberty. >> they board a eurocopter as-35 helicopter. and at 11:52 a.m., they take off. below on the hudson, captain corcoran's passengers are on the deck, taking in the view and filming the sights. >> at this point of the trip there were plenty of people on the outer decks with their video cameras and cameras pointing up
into the sky. it was just regular sightseeing, an enjoyable trip. >> a few minutes later a tourist recording the scenery catches sight of a helicopter and zooms in for a closer look. at the same time, yvonne morrow and her group are looking out over the river. >> we were looking across at new jersey and pointing things out on a tour when all of the sudden we heard this pop, and it made us look up. >> seemingly from out of nowhere, a small plane appears as the helicopter is ascending. >> oh, my god, oh, my god! >> a devastating collision is captured on video. the remains of both aircraft fall to the water. captain corcoran is almost directly below the falling debris. >> basically, at this point is when we had seen two major splashes. i didn't know what it was, to be honest with you, because the corner of my eye just at this
point right here. and it just went plop, plop. what the crewmembers heard was people screaming. that's when i realized it was a small plane and a helicopter. >> emergency responders arrive on the scene almost immediately. >> within seconds it seemed, nypd aviation, the helicopter came swooping down and dropped one of their rescue divers into the water. it was just amazing. >> stunned bystanders watched the tense scene unfold. >> you couldn't believe what you were seeing. it really was horrible. >> we were all hoping. we were looking for a miracle for someone to survive such a horrific accident. >> but there is no hope for the people aboard either aircraft. the pilot of the small plane, a piper pa-32r300, his two passengers, and the pilot and five occupants of the helicopter all perish in the collision. >> i figured there were no
survivors. nobody could survive that, especially when you saw the pieces of the helicopter falling into the water. it was too quick, too fast, and too devastating. >> immediately, the question arises how could this have happened on a perfectly clear summer day? one thing to consider is that helicopters are extremely complicated machines to operate. >> there is basically three factors at play while you're flying a helicopter, which is your collective, which actually lifts the helicopter up into the air, your cyclic, which controls the disc itself, which decides whether you move left, right, forward, or aft, and then your pedals, which keep the cabin pointed in the direction that you want it to be pointed in. >> according to his colleagues, jeremy clark was an experienced pilot, more than capable of handling the multiple tasks required to fly a helicopter. >> of course, the pilot's responsibility is not only to maintain control of the aircraft, but he's got to maintain that route.
august 8, 2009. a perfect summer day in new york city is shattered when the rotors of a tourist helicopter tear through the wing of a small plane, sending both careening into the hudson river. >> the airplane was a piper low-wing airplane. the helicopter was commercial sightseeing helicopter. and had passengers on board to see the sights of new york from the air. >> manhattan resident yvonne morrow was one of many people
near the river that morning who saw the catastrophic collision firsthand. >> it was really awful, because to see that, it's so devastating. sort of wondered how could this happen? >> while crews worked to recover the remains of the victims and both aircraft, the ntsb begins an investigation to determine how, on a clear day, this collision could have happened. one of the things they look at, the flight tracks of the plane and the helicopter. greg feith consulted on the case for the family of the fixed-wing pilot. >> august 2009 there were two aircraft taking off from two separate places. the helicopter was taking off out of the 30th street heliport in new york city. >> operated by 32-year-old pilot jeremy clark, the helicopter's tour was going to take the five italian tourists on board down the middle of the hudson river, around the statue of liberty, and back up. >> they were on a fixed route at about a thousand feet above the ground.
>> according to investigators, the other aircraft, a fixed wing piper pa-32r300 takes off at 11:50 a.m. and climbs to an altitude of 1100 feet. at the controls is 60-year-old recreational pilot steve altman. with him are his brother and 15-year-old nephew. the flight takes off from teterboro, new jersey, and is headed to ocean city, new jersey. >> in this case, the direction of flight was going to take this piper right over the hudson river as it transited through the new york city skyline area. >> two minutes later, at 11:52, the helicopter facing west lifts off, climbing straight up, then turning south and proceeding down the middle of the hudson river. because the hudson river is part of new york's vfr, or visual flight rule corridor, neither pilot has filed a flight plan. >> both were operating under visual rules which was a see and avoid rule.
somewhat like you drive your car. you see conflicting traffic and you don't put your car there. it's the same thing with airplanes. >> however, the piper's pilot does request flight following services from teterboro air traffic control. >> flight following is if the air traffic controller is not too busy with instrument traffic, they can radar identify an airplane and provide traffic advisories to the pilot. >> by 11:53, the helicopter is at 900 feet and climbing, still heading south. the piper, cruising at 1100 feet, has reached the hudson and is now only yards from the helicopter. the weather is good. visibility is ten miles with no clouds obscuring the aircraft. so why didn't they see and avoid each other?
>> the sad part about mid-air collisions is the vast, vast majority of them happen on bright sunny days. what it is is it's a bunch of guys up flying, and they're not aware of the aircraft around them. >> investigators believe that this is probably what happened on august 8th, in spite of the clear weather and clear visibility, the two pilots must have been distracted. to be sure, investigators try to re-create what may have been happening in the cockpit of each aircraft moments before impact. they turn their attention to the helicopter's operation. the collision occurs at 1100 feet, 100 feet above the recommended maximum altitude for the helicopter. investigators speculate that clark may have been distracted by his role as a pilot and tour operator. >> some of these pilots also become the tour guide, if you will, explaining the buildings, pointing out particular scenes and that kind of stuff. you have to divert your attention if that's the type of operation you're running. >> investigators raise the possibility that this distraction may have prevented
clark from noticing the piper approaching from the west as he lifts off. by the time he turns south, it's too late. the piper is approaching from behind the helicopter and out of clark's field of view. >> helicopters have typically very good visibility as they have larger canopies. but they, too, have visibility restrictions that can be up and behind them. >> investigators also learn that the pilot of the piper was likely dealing with a distracting situation of his own. as he struggles to reestablish radio contact with the air traffic controllers providing him with flight following. >> once the piper pilot had departed teterboro, the air traffic controller at teterboro said he needed to talk to the newark controller who handled that piece of airspace. he was given a handoff frequency. it is the pilot's responsibility to then read it back to the controller to ensure accuracy. >> the piper's pilot, however, reads the frequency back incorrectly.
teterboro's air traffic controller doesn't catch the mistake. investigators learn that this is because the air traffic controller's attention was diverted by a personal phone call. >> the fixed wing pilot never was on the appropriate frequency for the newark controller. but it's obvious that he probably was very distracted trying to establish that radio communication. >> this occurs just as the helicopter begins to lift off and turn south. audio transcripts show that the air traffic controller continues his personal call and does not issue any warning to the piper. now the helicopter is only yards away, but even at this close distance, investigators believe the piper's pilot would have difficulty spotting the helicopter. >> the helicopter can actually move vertically at a rapid rate. that may have been a contributing factor, because the pilot may not necessarily be looking down to identify aircraft.
>> according to the ntsb report, nine seconds before impact, the helicopter is now in the piper's field of view. but it's still not immediately visible to the pilot. >> human eyes are very good at detecting motion. if you see the traffic and it moves, your eye will pick it up. >> in this case, however, investigators believe the complex background of the new york city skyline disguises the movement of a helicopter. >> for the fixed wing pilot, all of a sudden now, he has got a jungle of buildings. he has got a variety of different shapes, sizes, colors. so to try to pick up movement of the helicopter may have been lost in those various colors. >> one second before impact, the helicopter is in clear view of the piper, but now it's too late to avoid it. >> and as they came together, during the course of taking what was believed to be evasive action, the rotor blades on the helicopter then cut into the piper, rendering it
incapacitated. the pilot couldn't control it, and both aircraft went into the river. >> investigators find that the probable cause of the accident was the inherent limitations of the see-and-avoid concept which made it difficult for the airplane pilot to see the helicopter until the final seconds before collision. for captain corcoran, the memory of the fatal crash is now a permit innocent part of his route. >> when i pass this area, i do think about it. but what sticks out in this one, it shouldn't have happened. and all those people died for nothing. coming up -- >> there is a lot of branches flying around, and the helicopter kind of starts shaking. and right then i knew that this isn't supposed to happen like this. xwxexe
strikes force a crew of wildland firefighters to evacuate a mountaintop. they believe they are flying to safety until disaster strikes. >> everything jerks real hard, and we went down. and i was wondering, is this really happening? >> august 5, 2008. shasta trinity national forest, northern california. it's been a long, hot summer for a 20-person crew of wildland firefighters from grayback forestry in oregon. for months, the men had been battling an outbreak of deadly forest fires sparked by the dangerous combination of extreme drought and severe weather. working his first season as a firefighter, rookie jonathan frohreich has been learning the
ropes on the front lines. >> we had a lot of bad lightning storms that year. all of northern california was pretty much on fire. >> with several thousand individual fires burning across the state, the crew from grayback, along with roughly 20,000 firefighters called in from and the world, have been pushed hard. wildland firefighter michael brown was one of them. >> we're out there. we're in the sticks. we're battling the brush and the trees and the animals. and your life is on the line. so you are always looking out for everybody. and the camaraderie is more intense, than, you know, anybody can ever imagine. >> despite the danger and the hardships, the tight knit crew has been making progress fighting a series of spot fires in the trinity, called the iron complex. for several days now, they've been spiked out at 8200 feet, cutting down trees and digging fire breaks in an attempt to contain the fires. >> the term spikes out means we were up in a remote area where
they have to fly in to your water and food. you throw your sleeping bag on the ground, camp out, wait to work in the morning. >> but on august 5th, warnings of an approaching electrical storm make their location on the mountain extremely hazardous. >> the crews were spiked out in deep rugged country. there was lightning predicted, and when lightning does come in the mountainous regions of the midwest, it picks the highest points, and that's the ridge tops. so, they were evacuated. >> with daylight fading fast, u.s. forest service coordinators have to move the men from grayback and several other crews out of the area quickly. they call in a specially outfitted twin-engine sikorsky f-61n, operated by carson helicopters, to transport the crews. >> they call it the flying bus, so it's a fairly big helicopter. and it had two seats on the
right side of the helicopter and the single seats on the left and a cargo area in the back. >> just after 6:00 p.m., it touches down at helispot 44, a small clearing in the mountains located at an elevation of 5,980 feet. it begins the first of several runs to helispot 36, roughly 4,400 feet below. >> we were split up, you know, ten and ten. and so, the first part of my crew, they had flown out just fine. and we were all excited because we were going to see it land and take off. >> the helicopter refueled and came back and got the next ten. >> at 7:36 p.m., the last of the grayback crew loads on. michael brown takes a seat in the front right of the aircraft and jonathan frohreich moves to the back. >> i was sitting all the way back in the back of the helicopter. being a new guy on the crew, a newbie, as we call it, i got last in line. so -- >> with the briefing complete,
the massive chopper lifts off. >> i was excited. i was looking forward to getting to ride on a larger helicopter. >> it felt perfectly fine to me. i could see out both windows on either side and i was able to see above the treetops. >> but roughly 100 feet in the air, as the chopper begins to move forward, something happens. >> i remember the helicopter dipping down once. and then we started to move forward, and then another dip. and that's when i could kind of tell something was going wrong. >> i'm looking out the window and next thing i notice is there's a lot of branches flying around and the helicopter kind of starts shaking and i notice that the rotors are tapping the tops of the trees. right then i knew this isn't right, this isn't supposed to happen like this. >> seconds later, the sikorsky slams into the mountain and bursts into flames. >> the helicopter kind of shifted, got really sideways. >> it's the last thing michael brown remembers before blacking out. >> the next thing i remember is looking up and seeing nothing
but fire. >> in the back of the helicopter, jonathan frohreich survives the impact. he's severely injured with a broken back. the situation is grave. in the front of the helicopter, michael brown awakens in an equally desperate situation. his face is smashed and his body pinned to the floor of the burning helicopter. >> i opened my eyes and i have other seats on top of me, behind me. i can hear some of my other co-workers and friends moaning out. at this point kind of gone into survival mode and i need to get my seat belt off somehow and get out of this. coming up -- >> it spewed out hundreds of pounds of fuel, which immediately lit.
firefighter jonathan frohreich manages to slip out of his seat belt, and in spite of a broken back, crawl to the closest part of the aircraft not yet on fire. >> in the back, in the cargo area, there's a single window. and i remember looking up, and i call it the light of god is what i saw. i just saw light right through the window right above my head. out of pure fear, i started punching the window. it took me three punches and i was able to punch the window out. >> pumping with adrenaline, frohreich escapes the burning helicopter, then collapses. meanwhile, his crewmate, michael brown, whose face is shattered and bleeding, struggles out from under several broken seats and escapes through another window in the front. >> i kind of just fell on my knees, fell down on my chest and was face first. i was just laying there in ash, coming to the realization that i'm just going to die. if i lie here long enough, i'll just die.
>> when the fuel-soaked wreckage finally burns out, the damage is catastrophic. four survivors -- jonathan frohreich, michael brown, firefighter rick schroeder and the aircraft's co-pilot, william coultas, are air-lifted away from the scene in critical condition. the pilot, check pilot and seven remaining firefighters all perish. >> i remember saying, god, you said you would never give me anything more than i could handle. and this is more than i can handle. >> i had woken up in the burn unit in sacramento, slightly conscious, and i swear i could hear other guys on the crew talking. and then i remember a couple people coming in and letting me know that, hey, you know, these guys didn't make it, you know. >> it was, you know, i think, the hardest and most i've ever cried in my life. >> as the firefighting community
mourns its fallen, the ntsb begins investigating what caused the sikorsky to hit the trees and crash into the ground. ntsb investigators are able to recover both 1500-horsepower ge engines and transport them from the scene for further examination. they also study the crash site, conduct eyewitness and survivor interviews, and recover and examine the helicopter's cockpit voice recorder, or cvr. >> we could listen to the engine sounds, we could examine the engines. one thing we looked into was the aircraft producing power? >> using a process called sound spectrum analysis, ntsb specialists can hear the engines in the cvr, not only producing power, but actually topping or reaching their maximum power just before the crash. >> there are limits on the amount of power that you can get out of the engines on all aircraft. and in this case, when they got
to that limit, it was not enough power to lift the helicopter. and as a result, they started down. >> the question for investigators now is what caused the engines to dangerously max out? >> as we started putting the investigation together, it was quite clear that the helicopter was seriously overweight for that takeoff. >> investigators discover that the performance charts they believe the flight crew used to determine how much weight they could carry when flying in high altitude had been altered. >> it was basically a very different chart that somebody had cut and pasted and gave to the flight crew. >> the question is why? the ntsb alleges that this change was made by someone at carson helicopters to exaggerate the helicopter's lift capability. >> if you artificially decrease the weight of the helicopter, that means you have more payload available, and more payload equates into more firefighters that can get in the helicopter. >> but this could cause the crew to inadvertently overload the
aircraft. >> the ntsb found that this aircraft was over its maximum operating weight by better than 1,000 pounds. the weight of the aircraft overcame the lift that was being produced, and the accident then was inevitable. >> the ntsb report states that several actions by carson helicopters, including altering performance charts, collectively resulted in the pilots relying on performance calculations that significantly overestimated the helicopter's load-carrying capacity. >> the ntsb basically concluded that the aircraft was operating outside of its performance standards or limitations. >> carson responds with an open letter, stating, "carson is not disputing that a carson employee submitted incorrect information on the empty weight of the aircraft, but the suggestion by the ntsb that it was condoned by the company is totally false and misleading."
in 2013, a former carson employee pled guilty to conspiring to defraud the forest service by altering the charts. another has been charged on no criminal charges were brought against carson, and the company maintains it does not believe the altered charts were the cause of the crash. and they are not alone. in 2010, william coultas, the surviving co-pilot and the family of roark schwanenberg, the pilot in command of the flight, dispute the ntsb's findings. they sued general electric, sikorsky and others, alleging that a known problem with the engine's fuel filter caused the crash. >> there is some discussion about the fact that there may have been a performance issue with the operation of the engine itself because there was some contamination found in a fuel
control unit, which could have reduced the fuel flow, which would have had an adverse effect on the engine performance. >> on march 27, 2012, a jury in oregon decides in favor of the pilots. >> i can't determine why the jury reached that conclusion. i can only provide that looking at all the factual information provided to the ntsb, we saw no evidence of an engine failure. >> general electric appeals the decision but settles out of court, as do the other parties, without admitting any wrongdoing. and it stands by the ntsb's findings. for michael brown and jonathan frohreich, the findings of the ntsb investigation and the lawsuit are little comfort. >> i don't think that there will ever be an answer that anybody wants to hear. all i know is that my friends didn't die fighting fire. they died in a situation that was out of their hands.