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Los Angeles Fire Department AW139 strikes object, suffers substantial damage during LaTuna Fire

LAFD Cover

A City of Los Angeles Fire Department (LAFD) AW139 helicopter suffered substantial damage after making contact with what appeared to be a pine tree during aerial firefighting operations on September 2, 2017 during the LA Tuna Fire that burned over seven thousand acres in the hills around Burbank and Glendale area.

LAFD 4 shortly after arrival in Van Nuys in June. Photo credit Jeremy Oberstein
LAFD “Fire 4” shortly after arrival in Van Nuys in June. Photo credit Jeremy Oberstein

The AW139 involved in the incident on September 2nd was also the LAFD’s newest helicopter. LAFD “Fire 4” was put into service barely over a month ago, publicized at an event attended by multiple news outlets covering the arrival of the newest helicopter in the fleet. The AW139 arrived in Los Angeles from the Leonardo Helicopters factory in Philadelphia on June 20th where it continued its final fit out of firefighting equipment that included a 450-gallon belly tank for firefighting operations.

A close up look at the sponson/wheel housing area damaged on LAFD Fire 4, a 2017 Leonardo AW139.
A close up look at the sponson/wheel housing area damaged on LAFD Fire 4, a 2017 Leonardo AW139.

On Saturday, September 2nd, Fire 4 was participating in fire drop operations with at least nine other aircraft that were assigned to assist with airborne water drops when the pilot of the helicopter made a mayday call after apparently coming into contact with an object while flying in the area of Verdugo Hills. The pilot then made an emergency landing on the football field of Verdugo Hills High School. According to reports from eyewitnesses in the area featured in coverage aired by NBC Los Angeles, a witness claimed to have observed the helicopter striking a tree.

Images submitted anonymously to Heliweb Magazine appear to back the eyewitness account as images show several small tree pine tree limbs protruding from damaged areas of the fuselage observed on the ground. The LAFD AW139 appears to have suffered substantial damage to the tail boom, stabilizers, and left side sponson/wheel housing observed in reviewed images. The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the emergency landing.

The LAFD AW139 suffered substantial damage, including what appears to be the loss of the entire left side of the stabilizer on the tail boom of the helicopter.
The LAFD AW139 suffered substantial damage, including what appears to be the loss of the entire left side of the stabilizer on the tail boom of the helicopter.

The La Tuna Fire is the largest fire in Los Angeles’ City history. Fueled by erratic high winds, the fire grew rapidly, spreading in four different directions. During the peak of the firefighting operation, there were nine helicopters and five water bomber fixed wing assets engaged in fire suppression operations in conjunction with over one thousand firefighters with two hundred six fire engines. The La Tuna Fire burned a total of 7,140 acres before being declared as extinguished on September 10th, 2017.

The Los Angeles Fire Department operates seven helicopters which serve as dual purpose air ambulance or fire attack aircraft with each AW139 equipped with a three hundred and fifty gallon water tank.

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