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Croman helicopter crashes in California

A pilot was injured when a helicopter owned by Croman Corporation, of White City, crashed Friday afternoon while fighting the Backbone Fire on the Klamath National Forest in Northern California. A U.S. Forest Service spokesman said both the pilots on the aircraft walked away from the crash, and one was flown to Mercy Hospital in Redding, Calif., where he was treated and released. The pilots' names were not available.

The aircraft was an S-61 military-style helicopter, the same kind that went down Aug. 5, 2008, near Junction City in California's Trinity County, killing nine firefighters, six of whom were from Jackson and Josephine counties, from Merlin-based Grayback Forestry.

"They're calling it a hard landing," Forest Service spokesman Jim Mackensen said. "I'm calling it a crash."

Mackensen said the aircraft came down hard and flipped on its side at 3:16 p.m. Friday while working at a heliwell, a plastic container that holds thousands of gallons of water for use in fighting forest fires far from good dipping sites in streams or lakes. Water had been hauled to the heliwell by trucks for the aircraft to pick up to attack the fire.

"He had just finished loading up," Mackensen said. "It did roll over and beat itself up pretty bad. It's not going to fly off the mountain."

The site of the crash was a wooded part of Siskiyou County about six miles north of the community of Forks of the Salmon and about 12 miles northeast of Willow Creek. The fire had spread over about 6,300 acres as of Saturday morning. Mackensen it was 50 percent controlled.

Mackensen said an investigation team was on its way to the accident and would begin at once trying to determine what went wrong. He said he believed the pilots were Croman employees. Phone calls to Croman's White City headquarters Saturday were not answered.

The Sikorsky helicopter in last year's tragedy was owned by Carson Helicopters of Grants Pass. That 30-year-old aircraft was made in Connecticut and upgraded in 2003 and had been used in firefighting for 10 years. A Carson spokesman said it was the first fatal crash for his company in 50 years.

In August of 2006, a pilot and co-pilot died when their Sikorsky CH-54 helicopter crashed into the Klamath River near Happy Camp, Calif.