- Associated Press - Wednesday, January 22, 2014

NORFOLK, Va. (AP) - A California man who led volunteers through the Sierra Nevada mountains cleaning up marijuana-growing sites was not properly equipped when he fell to his death from a helicopter, an Air Force report says.

Shane Krogen, 57, of Fresno was killed last September 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 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.

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 said, his contract had been expired at the time of his death, making him a volunteer. The report also said 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 said.

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 a nearby hospital in Visalia about an hour later.

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

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Brock Vergakis can be reached at www.twitter.com/BrockVergakis