LAKE SHASTINA, Cali. – NBC5 News is learning more about an emergency helicopter landing in a lake in Siskiyou County Wednesday. The only man on board the helicopter swam away safely. But the investigation into what happened is only just beginning. The USDA Forest Service decided last weekend to temporarily ground all Bell 212 helicopters. It comes after a fatal incident in Canada last month, where one firefighter died in a helicopter crash. Now multiple federal agencies are investigating just what happened Wednesday at Lake Shastina.
Something of a miracle. The pilot of a Bell 212 helicopter swimming away unscathed, after making an emergency landing into Lake Shastina Wednesday. The pilot was getting water to help fight the Lava Fire burning in Siskiyou County.
“It’s unknown exactly what happened with the aircraft. If it was a mechanical issue or another type of emergency,” said Sheriff Jeremiah LaRue, Siskiyou County Sheriff’s Office.
But the helicopter the pilot was flying is currently under investigation. Just last month a firefighter died while operating the Bell 212 in Canada when it crashed. A Canadian government investigation found the outboard main rotor hub strap pins came off during flight. That led to the main rotor blade and rotor head detaching from the helicopter. Canada is now grounding all Bell 212’s.
On July 4, the USDA Forest Service followed suit, with a temporary stand down.
This Tuesday the FAA released an Emergency Airworthiness Directive. It requires all of the Bell 212 operators to inspect the main rotor and replace any hub strap pins. A USDA Forest Service representative told NBC5 News all of the affected helicopters were updated before going back into the field.
“We don’t have much information about the circumstances of the incident yet, but we will be developing that and issuing a primary report,” said Peter Knudson from the National Transportation Safety Board.
The National Transportation Safety Board is aware of the incident but may not lead the investigation.
“We are in the process of waiting for that helicopter to be recovered where we can determine if there is substantial damage, which would trigger an NTSB investigation,” said Knudson.
The helicopter is still in Lake Shastina. The Siskiyou County Sheriff’s Department is sending a dive team to locate the helicopter. Until further progress is made the investigation is pending.
Though the crash doesn’t appear to be connected to the maintenance issue NBC5 News reached out to the Fresno-based company that leases the helicopter to the USDA Forest Service. It declined to comment on our story.