Co-pilot pleaded 'Fly darlin, fly darlin' before crash

Co-pilot pleaded 'Fly darlin, fly darlin' before crash
This photograph shows eitehr the helicopter that crashed or a very similar helicopter. This photograph was taken during the same firefighting operations, and the helicopter matches the color scheme and make of the helicopter that crashed.

Steven Renno, 22, of Cave Junction, Ore.

Shawn Blazer, 30, from Medford, Ore.

Scott Charlson, 25, from Phoenix, Ore.
Read his younger brother's memories of Scott

Matthew Hammer, 23, from Grants Pass, Ore.

Edrik Gomez, 19, from Ashland, Ore.

Bryan Rich, 29, from Medford, Ore.
Read his family's remembrance of Bryan

David Steele, 19, from Ashland, Ore.

WASHINGTON (AP) - The co-pilot of a helicopter ferrying firefighters implored "Fly darlin', fly darlin', fly darlin', fly darlin ..."' as the chopper lost power and fell out of the air in a rugged area of Northern California last year, according to a cockpit voice recording transcript released Wednesday.

Nine of 13 people aboard were killed. Seven of them (pictured at right) were from Oregon.

The transcript was among dozens of documents made public in the National Transportation Safety Board's investigation of the accident.

The documents represent the facts gathered by investigators, but don't contain any conclusion on the cause of the Aug. 5, 2008 crash.

The Sikorsky S-61N had been airborne less than a minute when the chopper's main rotor lost power during takeoff. It hit trees and crashed into a remote mountainside in Shasta-Trinity National Forest.

The transcript indicates the pilots thought all was going well, but then suddenly the pilot in charge, Roark Schwanenberg, exclaimed: "Oh, God."

Copilot William Coultas swore and began pleading with the aircraft to regain power.

Schwanenberg was among those killed in the crash, one of the deadliest incidents involving firefighters in the U.S. in recent decades.

Coultas was among four injured survivors.

The helicopter was carrying firefighters away from the front lines of a stubborn wildfire just before dusk.

Worsening weather conditions forecast for the area prompted the decision to fly about 50 firefighters out of the Trinity Alps Wilderness.

The helicopter had completed two trips and just refueled before it picked up the third group and made the ill-fated takeoff.

At the time of the accident, visibility was good enough that the pilots did not need to rely on instruments to make the flight.

Among the information undercovered by crash investigators is that there were several incidents prior to the crash of power fluctuations in or slow acceleration of General Electric CT58-140 engines of the type on the helicopter involved in the accident, according to one of the NTSB documents.

The problem was traced to tiny bits of contamination lodged in an engine fuel control valve which caused the valve to bind or seize, the document said.

Earlier on the day of the crash, the Sikorsky attempted to land in another spot, but dust churned up by its rotors caused a "brownout" - a condition in which visibility is limited by dust or sand - and forced the helicopter to circle around before attempting another landing.

Some of the chopper's mechanical workings recovered by investigators were covered with dust.

(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)