Accused Arsonist Faces Murder Charges
National Transportation Safety Board factual report released last
week on a September 6, 2006 accident involving a California
Department of Forestry OV-10A in the mountains above Springville,
CA doesn't list a specific cause yet, but it does provide some
The modified narrative reveals the engines were running at the
time of the crash, ruling out engine failure as the cause,
according to the Porterville (CA) Recorder.
"No pre-existing condition was found on either engine that would
have interfered with normal operation," according to the
As ANN reported, the OV-10
Bronco spotter aircraft, flying under the call sign "Air Attack
410," was assisting firefighters working a small blaze in a wooded
area near California's Sequoia National Forest when it went
California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger's office told UPI the
pilot was George Willett, 52, from Hanford, CA. Willet was a
contract pilot working for DynCorp. His passenger was CDF Battalion
Chief Robert Paul Stone, 36, of Visalia, CA, who was acting as the
The NTSB report on the accident indicates the pilot may have
been flying too low.
VMC weather conditions prevailed when the pilot departed VFR
from Porterville to assist a ground crew working in California's
Mountain Home Demonstration State Forest. Neither ATC nor CDF HQ
received any indication from the pilot of problems with the
In the days preceding the accident, CDF had been working three
separate fires in the area with both the OV-10 and aerial fire
tankers. The spotter aboard the accident aircraft, a CDF battalion
commander, was to coordinate with ground crews reporting the status
of previous fires and identify any new ones. The OV-10A was the
only aircraft flying over the area the day of the accident.
Witnesses reported seeing the aircraft flying between 400 and
600 feet over the trees as it proceeded north following the Bear
Creek. Another witness says he heard the engines revving just
before impact noises.
The aircraft hit 125-foot trees on an upslope in what NTSB
described as a box-like canyon.
The report also states CDF guidelines specifically prohibit
operations below 500 ft AGL unless authorized. The accident pilot
had not received any such authorization the day of the crash.
Patrick Courtney, of Tulare, CA, is accused of setting the Camp,
Sock, Jaguar and Mountain fires the OV-10A was investigating at the
time of the crash. He faces murder charges in connection with
The NTSB's determination of the cause of the crash, which has
yet to be released, is expected to play a key role in the trial.
Presiding Judge James Hollman has already told prosecutors they
need to show a direct link between Courtney's actions and the plane
(ANN thanks David Atkinson for his photograph of a
Department of Forestry OV-10, shown above -- Ed)