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Federal Indictments Handed Up In 2008 Helicopter Accident

Two Face Criminal Charges For False Weight And Takeoff Power Data

A federal grand jury in Medford, OR, has handed up indictments accusing two Oregon men of falsifying weight and takeoff power data given to the U.S. Forest Service about helicopters they provided for firefighting missions. One of those aircraft, a Sikorsky S-61N, went down in northern California in 2008, resulting in the fatal injury of nine people on board. Four others were seriously injured.

Charged are Steven Metheny, 42, the former vice president of West Coast operations for Carson Helicopters, and Levi Phillips, who served as maintenance director under Metheny. Phillips was suspended Monday after the indictments were opened, according to a report appearing in The Oregonian.

According to the charging document, the two allegedly knowingly submitted contract bids containing false weight and balance charts and aircraft performance data to the Forest Service. That information was used to determine if the aircraft met the minimum specifications of the contract.

Those charts then were passed on to flight crews, who used them to determine if they were within the operating envelope for the aircraft. The indictment charges Metheny and Phillips with "endangering the safety of the helicopters in flight." Information from the NTSB said that the helicopter involved in the 2008 accident was 563 pounds over gross, and 1,674 pounds heavier than the pilots' calculations, which affected their decision-making process. Carson Helicopters fired Metheny in 2009, the paper reports.

A conviction carries a possible 20-year sentence. The indictment supports an assertion put forth by an attorney for GE, who testified in a civil trial that the aircraft was overweight at the time of the accident. The jury in that trial disagreed, and awarded one pilot who was seriously injured and the family of one who was killed $70 million after determining that a faulty fuel control valve manufactured by GE shut down power to one of the Sikorsky's two engines.

(Image of accident helicopter provided by the NTSB)

FMI: www.ord.uscourts.gov

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