NTSB Says FAA Withheld Information

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The FAA dismissed two pilots' allegations related to a fatal helicopter crash in 2008 and failed to report them to the NTSB, investigators said during a safety board meeting on Tuesday. The pilots wrote to the FAA two months after the crash and said the company that leased the firefighting helicopter to the Forest Service routinely understated takeoff weights. NTSB investigators didn't know about the allegations until a year later when the letters turned up in a routine request for documents. The NTSB said the Sikorsky S-61N helicopter was more than 1,000 pounds overweight when it tried to take off from a mountaintop clearing at about 6,000 feet near Weaverville, Calif. The helicopter was airborne less than a minute, carrying nine firefighters and two pilots, when it lost power, crashed into trees, hit the ground, and caught fire. One pilot and eight firefighters were killed and the others on board were seriously injured.

The helicopter was being operated under contract to the U.S. Forest Service by Carson Helicopter Services Inc. as a public-use flight, the NTSB said. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed for the cross-country flight that was originating at the time of the accident. A VFR flight plan had been filed. The helicopter had been assigned to transport about 50 wildland firefighter helitack crewmembers out of the Trinity Alps Wilderness of the Shasta Trinity National Forest due to forecasted worsening weather conditions. The helicopter had completed two trips, and had gone to Trinity Helibase to refuel. After it had refueled, it returned for its third load of passengers.