In the wake of Tuesday's helicopter crash with five people aboard, the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation has instituted a safety stand down of all of its aircraft for 48 hours out of an abundance of caution, officials said Wednesday.
"It will allow us to finish reviewing the incident and debrief all of the aviation resources that were a part of the Deep Creek Fire accident," officials said in an email, adding the decision was made at the direction and recommendation of the chief pilot and the safety officer of the DNRC Fire Protection Bureau. "It will allow us finish reviewing the incident and debrief all of the aviation resources that were a part of the Deep Creek Fire accident."
The cause of the accident is still under review. The 48-hour safety stand down started at 10:30 p.m. Tuesday.
The crash occurred while fighting the Deep Creek Canyon fire between Townsend and White Sulphur Springs. All five people aboard were able to safely exit the aircraft and were assessed by medical staff at both the Billings Clinic Broadwater in Townsend and St. Peter’s Health in Helena. They are now home with their families, DNRC officials said.
DNRC has 10 aircraft in its fleet that consists of seven helicopters and three fixed-wing aircraft.
Officials said Wednesday it was one of the five Bell UH-1H (Huey) type 2 helicopters used to support the agency’s initial attack fire suppression program.
DNRC officials said they are responsible for the review of the accident and the release of the report. The FAA and the National Traffic Safety Bureau have left the investigation to DNRC.
"We are giving both agencies photos and accident reports upon completion," a DNRC spokesperson said.
A spokesman for the National Transportation Safety Board on Wednesday said they were aware of the incident and that it involved a Bell helicopter, but did not know the extent of the role the NTSB will be playing in the investigation.
Officials said the safety stand down will not have a significant effect on the "critical mission duties" of fighting the fire and noted that other cooperating agencies are still using aircraft.
The five Bell UH-1H helicopters are located in Helena, Missoula and Kalispell. Two are in Helena for statewide deployment.
Two light Bell 206 B-III type 3 helicopters are stationed in Helena. One is owned by the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ). DNRC maintains this aircraft and provides pilot services to DEQ. In return, DNRC reserves the right to use this aircraft for fire missions. The second light helicopter is used as a backup aircraft or for additional coverage.
There are three fixed-wing Cessna 180 aircraft that are used primarily for fire patrol/detection and personnel transportation. They are kept in Helena, Missoula and Kalispell.
Assistant editor Phil Drake can be reached at 406-231-9021.