A rapid response and quick thinking by Ultra Helicopters pilot Wayne Norris saved his life and that of a passenger, following a fast-spreading engine fire in a Bell 204C helicopter (the 204C is an early civilian version of the UH-1).
Norris was doing long-line work, hoisting a water bucket over Easterville, Manitoba in Canada on June 15, 2009, when he noticed "dark smoke coming out of the 204’s hellhole in his rear-view mirror," says Ultra Helicopters chief pilot Josh Poirier. The hellhole is an area in the aft cabin that runs from the transmission to the bottom of the aircraft and houses hydraulic and electrical connections. "Wayne dropped the bucket and line, then made an abbreviated final approach to the nearest base just a mile away."
Norris’ fast reaction saved his and his passenger’s lives. "It was two minutes from the time Wayne noticed the smoke to the time he landed," Poirier tells Rotor & Wing. "A minute after landing, the helicopter’s engine compartment and mast were engulfed in flames. Had he tried to make it to a further base, which he considered doing, the machine might have broken up in air."
Canada’s Transportation Safety Board is currently investigating the cause of the fire. Ultra Helicopters is headquartered in Peace River, Alberta. It provides charter helicopters for fire suppression, oil and gas exploration, medevac and air taxi services.