Employees of Oregon helicopter firm indicted in wake of fatal crash
Steven Renno, 22, of Cave Junction, Ore.
Shawn Blazer, 30, from Medford, Ore.
Scott Charlson, 25, from Phoenix, Ore.
Read his younger brother's memories of Scott
Matthew Hammer, 23, from Grants Pass, Ore.
Edrik Gomez, 19, from Ashland, Ore.
Bryan Rich, 29, from Medford, Ore.
Read his family's remembrance of Bryan
David Steele, 19, from Ashland, Ore.
MEDFORD, Ore. - Two Oregon employees of a helicopter company accused by federal investigators of causing an accident that killed 9 people in 2008 by falsifying aircraft records could face prison if found guilty of federal criminal charges brought against them last week by a grand jury indictment.
The firefighting helicopter crash in northern California killed 7 people from Oregon (pictured below at right), including Scott Charlson of Eugene.
The National Transportation Safety Board in 2010 said the actions of the helicopter company contributed to the crash by misleading the pilot about the actual capabilities of the helicopter. A civil jury trial in 2012 ended with a verdict against GE, the maker of the helicopter's engine.
A federal grand jury last week indicted Steven Metheny, 42, of Central Point, Oregon, and Levi Phillips, 45, of Grants Pass, Oregon, on charges of conspiracy to defraud the United States Forest Service involving contracts awarded to Carson Helicopters, Inc., in 2008 for helicopter services in firefighting operations.
Metheny was also charged in 22 other counts with mail and wire fraud, making false statements to the Forest Service, endangering the safety of aircraft in flight and theft from an interstate shipment.
If convicted, Metheny and Phillips face a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison for the conspiracy to defraud count.
Metheny also faces a maximum sentence of 20 years for each mail and wire fraud count, 20 years for each endangering the safety of aircraft in flight count, 10 years for the interstate theft count, and up to five years for each false statement count.
"Fly darlin', fly darlin', fly darlin', fly darlin"
As dusk approached August 5, 2008, one of the Sikorsky helicopters Carson leased to the Forest Service touched down near the front lines of the Iron Complex forest fire burning in northern California's Trinity Alps.
Fire bosses had decided to pull crews off the front lines for safety's sake.
Ten firefighters from Oregon trundled on board the Sikorsky to get a lift back to camp with the pilot, co-pilot and a Forest Service employee.
The Sikorsky S-61N had been airborne less than a minute when the chopper's main rotor lost power during takeoff.
The co-pilot of a helicopter ferrying firefighters implored "Fly darlin', fly darlin', fly darlin', fly darlin ..."' as the chopper lost power and fell out of the air in a rugged area of Northern California last year, according to a cockpit voice recording transcript released Wednesday.
It hit trees and crashed into a remote mountainside in Shasta-Trinity National Forest.
Besides pilot Roark Schwanenberg, 54, of Lostine, Ore., the dead included Jim Ramage, 63, a U.S. Forest Service inspector pilot from Redding, Calif.; and firefighters Shawn Blazer, 30, of Medford; Scott Charlson, 25, of Eugene, Ore.; Matthew Hammer, 23, of Grants Pass; Edrik Gomez, 19, of Ashland; Bryan Rich, 29, of Medford; David Steele, 19, of Ashland; and Steven "Caleb" Renno, 21, of Cave Junction.
In 2010, the National Transportation Safety Board said Carson Helicopters misled the Forest Service and FAA about the capabilities of the aircraft. As a result, the pilot took off carrying more weight than the helicopter could handle.
"This accident had more to do with Carson's actions than the oversight entities' inactions," NTSB chairman Deborah Hersman said. "But the FAA and the Forest Service didn't hold up their end of the deal to oversee Carson's actions."
Scott Charlson told his parents the spring before the crash that he was going to be a firefighter to pay his way through college.
Charlson graduated Lifegate Christian High School in Eugene back in 2001.
"This was going to be his last year in school at Southern Oregon University studying to be a Sports Journalism major and was his first year working as a fireman," Scott's younger brother Jake wrote in 2008.
"He loved to play hockey and was a huge fan of the 49ers football team and hoped one day to be a sports-caster for ESPN.
"He was full of life and he lived to the fullest without regret, never looking back, but always pushing forward. He was a major influence to all of his friends, there was never a dull moment to be had around Scott. He strived for better things in his life and pulled everyone along with him to better things whether they could see it at the time or not, but we all ended up seeing it in the end.
"The impact he has had on the community surrounding him is too great to spell out in words; to know it, you must have known him, and I am sorry for the people who can not have that opportunity. The memories we have of him are only good and he will live on in all of our hearts and minds forever.
"I hope that all makes sense and is somewhat useful. The love that my family and I have for my Brother is un-expressible, and to be able to tell everyone about this amazing man makes this situation at least somewhat liveable. Thank you for everything."
An Oregon jury ruled in March 2012 that a problem with an engine was responsible for the 2008 crash of a helicopter that killed nine firefighters during a wildfire in Northern California.
The jury in Portland reached its verdict after a pilot who survived and the widow of one who was killed sued General Electric for $177 million.
The plaintiffs argued the company knew the engines it made for the Sikorsky S-61N helicopter had a design flaw making them unsafe.
GE countered that the helicopter crashed because it was carrying too much weight when it took off after picking up a firefighting crew on the Iron 44 wildfire on the Shasta-Trinity National Forest near Weaverville, Calif.