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Sun, Nov 19, 2006

CA Man Arrested For Arson And Homicide in Aircraft Accident

Allegedly Set Blaze Resulting In OV-10A Crash

Federal and state investigators arrested a 29-year-old man in connection with an early September Tulare county forest fire.

Patrick Courtney is suspected of setting three separate fires near Springville, CA. On September 6th, two men were killed when the California Department of Forestry (CDF) OV-10A spotter plane they were flying crashed while observing firefighting efforts for those blazes from the air.

According to NTSB records, CDF Battalion Chief Rob Stone and contract pilot George "Sandy" Willett died when their Bronco slammed into 125 ft trees on the upslope of a box-like canyon.

Spotter aircraft play a vital role in fighting forest fires. Crews on the ground are usually blinded by smoke and unable to see terrain features that might help in fighting the fire. The spotter aboard the aircraft is responsible for coordinating with ground crews.

In announcing the arrest at a press conference last Friday, Tulare Fire Unit Chief Ed Wristen said, "I commend the efforts of the joint investigation team working diligently on the case. The deaths of Chief Stone and Pilot Willett have been very difficult for both of our agencies, the community and the families and friends of our fallen firefighters. We are looking forward to bringing this incident to a close."

Although a preliminary finding has been released, the direct cause of the September crash is still under investigation by the NTSB.

FMI: www.fire.ca.gov

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