Wild Horse Education

Pilot Error Found In Helicopter Crash (Triple B)

Follow Up: During the Triple B roundup there was a helicopter incident that created immediate disquiet onsite and online. 

Our Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) team has gained enough information for us to publish this piece and dispel the rumor mill. 
Our WHE team member was the only person to document the incident. She was approached after the incident and asked “Did you videotape that?” Of course she answered, “yes.” Others onsite replied “What incident?”
This set off a chain of events where WHE provided documentation to federal agencies for the required investigative process and rumors took to social media.
The incident happened and pilot error was found as the cause.

Report below:

Video note: There are 2 choppers flying. The second takes up the chase after the first goes down and then is called in to land and a trailer is called in (usually trailers only come in to haul out a horse).

National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) found pilot failure in accident at wild horse roundup in August.  As pilot was using a helicopter to drive horses toward the trap setup, he misjudged his height above the terrain when a horse unexpectedly turned toward him.  NTSB determined pilot failed to maintain clearance from the terrain while maneuvering at a low altitude as the probable cause.  Reference documents for this piece provided by our Freedom of Information (FOIA) team.

Accident Date:  August 15, 2022
Event:  Roundup of about 2,000 wild horses from Triple B Complex Herd Management Areas near Ely, NV. Contractor: Cattoor Livestock

Accident demonstrates how close helicopters fly to wild horses at roundups. (This pilot was at a height so close, he was closer to the ground than the height of a wild horse.)

Pregnant mare lagging behind her band moments before helicopter accident (below). It is interesting to note that BLM claims she was not pregnant, just fat. (But we thought that you said they were starving?)

As the helicopter drove the pregnant mare and her band to a location where a trap for them had been set up, they are obscured by trees.  Noticeable is how close chopper was to animals and terrain just before the accident (below).

Pregnant mare lagging behind appears to be the horse that (pilot claimed to have) unexpectedly turned toward the helicopter. Of course horses react unpredictably when driven by fear. We don’t see a horse veer, we see the horse simply following the others and a pilot coming in too fast and low. What did you see in the video?

The “blame the horse” excuse often runs rampant in decisions to remove wild horses and in handling during capture.

Nearly a decade ago, at Triple B in August, WHE cameras caught a horse hit with the skids of a helicopter setting off a fight to gain a humane policy after the court ruled in our favor. The judge called BLM’s defense a “blame the horse affront.”

It is more than unconscionable that we are still seeing choppers this close to wild horses and burros during roundups.  (History of the fight against abuse HERE)

Findings from the NTSB found the pilot was flying so close to the ground pilot’s reaction caused helicopter to collide with the terrain and substantial damage to the aircraft.  

NTSB did not travel to the scene.  Public was not allowed to view the scene of this accident and was kept behind trees (where they could not view loading after capture, either).

      The accident occurred within the public’s potential to view it, but what events are occurring outside our view?

Lack of transparency leads to mistrust of BLM’s decision-making and actions. (Example: omission of the death of a second foal resulting from injury on the first day of Pancake HERE, the same personnel as Triple B roundup.)

      Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has yet to disclose the helicopter accident to the public in online roundup reports.  It appears BLM is not using the accident as a potential teachable moment.  BLM only reports “Did not gather today.” 

In other documents our team obtained the incident was not addressed, either.  “After Action Review” is required for all roundup operations prepared by BLM Incident Commander in charge of that roundup, in this case Ben Noyes.  “After Action Review” only states “helicopter issues.”   And it also does not address other activity our observer found concerning (or violating) the Comprehensive Animal Welfare Program (CAWP).  However, Noyes did remark about BLM public affairs Nevada and its “good support” while news media was on site filming the roundup  …  but nothing about the helicopter crash or subsequent near assault by the contractor on a member of the public (our observer that videotaped the crash).

(above) The next day, Aug. 16, roundup continued with only one helicopter, since the second helicopter was damaged.  Chronology and documentation of roundup is HERE.

Excerpt from our article the day after accident: “We are glad to hear no one was hurt. This could have been disastrous for human and wild horse alike.

“Fast and very low flying is common at helicopter capture operations. We hear a lot from BLM about the ever-changing restrictions on observers due to ‘distance from helicopter’ (as observers are pushed further and further back). But very little information comes from the agency about pilot distances from wild horses, wranglers or distance from the ground. Maybe it is time to have this very important conversation about distance between the pilot, the ground and wild horses instead of always focusing on how far away to keep the media? (We have tried several times to speak with BLM to improve and define policy and have offered our database at every hearing, meeting and sidebar conversation.)”

Wild Horse Education (WHE) observer documented and disclosed the helicopter driving the wild horses and the accident exclusively.  She followed up by preparing the WHE Comprehensive Animal Welfare Program (CAWP) assessment report on the treatment of wild horses at this roundup.  WHE CAWP Report is the only external report and can be read in contrast to BLM’s. 

BLM occasionally prepares an internal BLM CAWP assessment report, as in this case.  While BLM makes claims to the public and Congress it assesses and evaluates adherence to CAWP, its report is full of holes.  For example, BLM team was at the roundup for maybe one or two days for a monster of a roundup, missed inhumane conduct, and published its report with an excellent score on the roundup long before the roundup even ended!  When reading BLM’s CAWP report what is flat-out missing are repercussions to roundup contractor for violating animal welfare standards to dissuade the future bad acts.  Nevertheless, BLM should at least adhere to its own policy (CAWP includes provision for full record keeping and reporting, not just handling practices):

“The Authorized officer should promptly notify the employees, contractors, and partners of actions that are not compliant with the CAWP and correct all issues immediately.  It is the responsibility of all individuals engaged in actions throughout the Wild Horse & Burro program to implement all aspects of the CAWP.”

You can view our full assessment of BLMs internal CAWP process HERE.

Image of helicopter damage provided in response to our FOIA (below):

Ely Wild Horse Specialist Noyes serves in an added important role as a BLM Comprehensive Animal Welfare Program Team member. (As well as writing the roundup plans and doing all the input on any range project that impacts any HMA: mining, livestock and the feeding plan for domestic livestock, in the district).

Roundups are expensive, taxpayer-funded and controversial operations.  “After Action Review” to be prepared to review the roundup operation (a full evaluation).  Noyes prepared a review.  Maybe he looks good on the news?  How good do you think his work is?   (below)

Entire After Action Review for Triple B

This is an opportunity to expand on BLM’s lack of transparency and a pattern of hiding problems rather than working on improvements.

BLM mantra is it cares about the horses.  Another one is wild horse deaths attributable to roundups are very, very low. (Our investigation demonstrated that the average number of deaths attributed to removal and the first 6-months of captivity at 12%)

However, BLM controls the narrative and the statistics.  BLM has mercilessly expanded reasons for “euthanizing” wild horses.  It is within BLM’s sole discretion whether horse deaths fall in the attributable-to-roundups category.  For example, these horse deaths BLM determined are not attributable to roundups:

Newer broader policy for horse euthanasia to include pretty much any chosen physical trait;

BLM typically claims horses have pre-existing conditions;

The very next mornings after horses have been captured they are loaded onto semitrucks destined for a facility and from that moment forward deaths are not counted as attributed to a roundup;

Sudden deaths and injuries to wild horses that have evaded capture and remained in the wild (out of public view) are uncalculated.

WHE has many examples of where our observer documented concerning incidents at roundups prodding BLM to at least own up to the incidents.  Roundups are atrocious.  It is consequential for us to document and report on roundups and it is also a weighty responsibility.

Just after the helicopter accident BLM came straight to me asking if I got it.  The video was supplied to BLM later that day.  It begs a question: Would NTSB have been notified and subsequent investigation if not for my video? What happens outside that is kept out of sight?

Maybe that can be answered in the unfolding of the following days, the 10 days left in the roundup operation.  The messaging from BLM and the roundup contractor, sometimes aggressively, was my documentation is not welcome.  I document roundups as a layer of public oversight and Wild Horse Education exposes those truths.  Video is the important medium.  It can hold BLM accountable, and useful as exhibits in courtrooms, unlike still images. ~ Colette Kaluza

Wild horses are being removed because BLM is remiss in developing herd management area plans for areas, in spite of federal regulation requirement, clearing the way for industry to slice and dice the animals’ habitat without mitigating its impact.

The longer we hide from the consequences of loss of wild horse habitat, the more aggressive roundups will become.  And in the bigger picture, where go wild horses, go the other animals, go healthy public lands.

We need your help to address abuse at roundups.  You can sign onto this simple request HERE

BLM abdicates to the contractors… even when it comes to the rights of the public to view. It should be noted that in the solicitations for “Catch, Treat, Release” (the new label for roundup contract) : more HERE

Why is BLM more interested in abdicating responsibility and hiding things than in transparency and working to fix problems?

We continue the fight.

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Categories: Wild Horse Education