Incident Name:  Big Elk Fire, Arapaho-Roosevelt National Forest
Date:  7/30/02, 1845 hrs
Personnel:  Leonard Gordon Knight
Age:  52
Agency/Organization:  registered to Roberts Aircraft Co., Granite Canyon, WY and operated by Geo-Seis Helicopters, Ft Collins, CO under contract to the United States Forest Service
Position: helicopter pilot

Summary: On July 30, 2002 Pilot Knight was operating his helicopter fighting the Big Elk Fire near the Rocky Mountain National Park. He was the sole occupant of the aircraft. Pilot Knight was dropping water on hot spots along the fire boundary. Just prior to the crash, witnesses heard Pilot Knight report that his helicopter was going down and saw the helicopter drop to the ground with the blades turning slowly. The helicopter was destroyed when it struck terrain. Pilot Knight was killed on impact.

Gordon Knight, pilotGordon KnightAerospatiale Llama


Big Elk Fire, Arapaho-Roosevelt National Forest, near the Rocky Mountain National Park, CO.

Return to top

Reports, Documentation, Lessons Learned

  • Concise Information from NTSB, USFS, AAP and WLF Staff research:
    • July 30, 2002
    • Arapaho-Roosevelt National Forest, near Estes Park , Colorado
    • 1 killed: Gordon Knight
    • Operator: Geo-Seis Helicopters of Ft Collins, CO
    • Type: Aerospatiale SA 315B Llama
    • FAA Registration #N3978Y
    • NTSB # DEN02GA085
  • NTSB Incident Lookup; use NTSB Accident lookup number.
  • NTSB: Probable Cause (html)

The National Transportation Safety Board determines the probable cause(s) of this accident as follows:

the pilot’s abrupt collective input during water application to a forest fire. Contributing factors were encountering a vortex ring state, the inadvertent settling with power, the low altitude, and the mountainous terrain. (explanation of terms at link)

Helicopter downHelicopter down

Return to top Links:

Return to top

Media Articles and Reports.

  • Gordon Knight
  • Firefighting helicopter’s crash blamed on engine8/6/02 | Free Lance-Star

    AP- Estes Park, CO – A helicopter crashed and killed its pilot while fighting a forest fire because its turbine engine overheated and partially melted… NTSB investigators were still trying to determine what caused the overheating… “Witnesses reported hearing a high-pitch whine and seeing rotor blades turning slowly, so we suspected a problem with the power train” said Arnold Scott, chief investigator for the Denver office of the NTSB. Investigators took the engine apart and founf that a part of it is just literally toast, just burned up, Scott said on 8/5/2002. The damage interrupted the transfer of power to the helicopter’s rotor blades. The FAA investigators examined the maintenance records for the Aerospatiale SA-315B Lama helicopter which was owned by Geo-Seid of Fort Collins. The rebuilt engine on the 1978 helicopter had logged only about 200 hours of flying time. The crash killed the pilot Leonard G. Knight, 52 of Boulder.

Return to top

Photos, Videos, & Tributes

  • Memorial photos:

Gordon Knight Memorial

Gordon Knight MemorialGordon Knight Memorial

Gordon Knight Memorial Air Life Fly-by

Return to top

Contributors to this article: John Miller

Please support the Wildland Firefighter Foundation


One Comment

Leave a Reply

Skip to toolbar