Guilty Plea in Iron 44 Case

iron 44 guilty pleaMEDFORD, Ore. – One of two men indicted on dozens of federal charges related to the deadly Iron 44 helicopter crash in 2008 has plead guilty in U.S. District Court in Medford.

Levi Phillips, former maintenance director for Carson Helicopters in Grants Pass, pled guilty Monday to a single charge of defrauding the U.S Forest Service. Phillips and former Carson Vice President Steven Metheny were accused of lying about helicopter weight limits and other safety features on several aircraft in order to receive a $20 million grant from the Forest Service.

The 25-page indictment in February said the men had endangered aircraft safety by falsifying documents and performance charts. Phillips faces a 20-year prison sentence and a $250,000 fine. Metheny still faces dozens of charges in the case.

One of the aircraft involved was the Sikorsky S-61N firefighting helicopter that crashed near Weaverville, Calif. in 2008, which killed nine people on board – seven firefighters from Grayback Forestry and two crew members. Four people survived the crash. An investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board in 2010 found that the helicopter was well over its weight limit when it crashed. The NTSB said Carson had “put its profit above safety” and said the crash could have been prevented.

Grayback Forestry owner Mike Wheelock released a statement on the guilty plea saying, “this doesn’t bring back any of those who paid the ultimate price, but if it prevents something like this from happening again, it’s a good thing.”