Federal and state investigators have made an arrest in connection with the fire that a CDF OV-10A was working when it crashed on Sept. 6, 2006, killing two people. 29-year-old Patrick Courtney of South Valley, CA is believed to have set three separate fires near Springville, CA. Courtney is expected to be arraigned in court on Tuesday, November 21. CDF Battalion Chief Rob Stone and pilot George "Sandy" Willett died when their Bronco (civil registration N419DF, manuf. s/n 305-104M-56, BuNo 155445, Air Attack No. A-410, based at Porterville, CA) impacted into 125 foot trees on the upslope of a box-like canyon about 170 miles north of Los Angeles while directing and observing the firefighting efforts.
Although a preliminary finding has been released, the final report will not be released for several more months, after the NTSB completes its investigation. While witnesses reported that the plane appeared to be flying too low, investigators think that Courtney can be held accountable for the crew's deaths is he is found responsible for the arson.
During a press conference on Friday, November 17 to announce the arrest, Tulare Fire Unit Chief Ed Wristen commended the efforts of the joint investigation team working the case and said that the two deaths had been very difficult on the agencies, families, and friends. "We are looking forward to bringing this incident to a close."
The widow of "Sandy" Willett told KFSN-TV Action News that she was happy that the legal process was moving forward.