Air Force: Helicopter fall victim Shane Krogen wasn't properly equipped

Associated PressJanuary 22, 2014 

Shane Krogen, the Fresno outdoorsman who led crews of volunteers through the Sierra Nevada mountains repairing trails and cleaning up marijuana grow sites, died in September 2013 after falling from a helicopter.

SPECIAL TO THE BEE — File

— Shane Krogen, the popular Fresno outdoorsman who led volunteers through the Sierra Nevada cleaning up marijuana-growing sites, was not properly equipped when he fell to his death from a helicopter, an Air Force report says.

Krogen, 57, was killed Sept. 12 after falling 40 feet from a helicopter being flown by the California Air National Guard during a counterdrug operation in the Sequoia National Forest.

Krogen was founder and executive director of the High Sierra Volunteer Trail Crew, a group that worked with state and federal agencies to remove trash and contaminants from illegal and remote marijuana gardens.

A report released by the Virginia-based Air Combat Command last week found that an improper harness connection was just one of several missteps that led to the accident.

Dave Gilmore, board president of the High Sierra Volunteer Trail Crew, said Wednesday he's only seen the news release about the Air Force findings. But while the crew is still saddened by Krogen's death, Gilmore said, it appears the accident was just "one of those unfortunate, tragic events."

Rick Fleming, who replaced Krogen as executive director, said the crew has been waiting for the report.

"We'll be dealing with it (Krogen's death) for years," Fleming said, but added, "we are moving forward and are going to keep his legacy going."

According to the report, Krogen was a civilian who wasn't authorized to be on the helicopter in the first place. The report says the California Department of Fish and Wildlife mischaracterized Krogen as a department employee when he was a contract employee whose contract didn't allow for helicopter transportation.

Additionally, the report says, his contract had been expired at the time of his death, making him a volunteer. The report also says that, according to the Pentagon, only law enforcement personnel should be allowed on counterdrug flights.

The accident report says Krogen also mistakenly attached the aircraft's hoist to his own D-ring connector rather than a government-issued, load-bearing, metal D-ring.

The two D-rings were so close together that a crew member who visually inspected Krogen before he was to be lowered from the helicopter didn't notice that he was attached to the wrong one, the report says.

The view was also cluttered with pouches, water bottles and a handgun Krogen had attached to himself. The report also says Krogen didn't have approval to have a weapon on board the flight.

While being hoisted out of the helicopter, the report says Krogen's D-ring snapped, causing the fall. He was still alive after impact, but was pronounced dead shortly after he reached Kaweah Delta Medical Center in Visalia about an hour later.

Krogen received the U.S. Forest Service's Regional Forester's Volunteer of the Year Award in 2012.

Attorney Richard Watters, representing Krogen's wife, Julie Krogen, said Wednesday she will sue the federal government for her husband's death. An administrative claim -- the precursor to filing a lawsuit -- will be filed in federal court this week, Watters said.

Watters said the Air Force report was "mostly fair."

"The Air Force is the parent of the California National Guard," Watters said. "They found negligence on their own division. I don't find that very often, so I'm refreshingly surprised."

Watters said the lawsuit he will file claims the California Department of Fish and Wildlife and the California Air National Guard are liable for Krogen's death.

The Fish and Wildlife Department misrepresented Krogen as their employee to the Air National Guard, Watters said, along with failing to notify the California National Guard that Krogen's contract did not allow him to fly in a military aircraft and that it expired a couple weeks before the operation -- which meant he wasn't authorized to participate.

Additionally, Watters said the California Air National Guard improperly allowed Krogen to be hooked to a plastic ring instead of a metal ring before attempting to lower him to the ground from the helicopter.

Fresno Bee staff contributed to this report. The reporter can be reached at @BrockVergakis on Twitter.

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