Firefighting pilot killed in New Zealand helicopter crash

A helicopter pilot was killed February 14 while working on a fire in New Zealand. David Steven Askin was flying the aircraft at a wildfire when it went down in Christchurch’s Port Hills.

Mr. Askin was a pilot and instructor for Way To Go Heliservices, a company based in Rangiora, New Zealand.

Steve Askin
Steve Askin. Way To Go Heliservices photo.

Previously he had been a member of New Zealand’s Special Air Service, a special forces unit of the Army.  He served in Afghanistan and was wounded in a firefight with the Taliban after his unit came to the aid of Afghan police when they were attacked at the InterContinental Hotel in Kabul in a five-hour battle.

Police, the Civil Aviation Authority, and the Transport Accident Investigation Commission are investigating the crash.

There are reports that 15 helicopters were fighting the recent wildfires near Christchurch that have burned 600 hectares (1,483 acres).

Our sincere condolences go out to Mr. Askin’s family, friends, and coworkers.

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Chris.

Typos or errors, report them HERE.

Interview with lead plane pilot Jamie Tackman about the 747 air tanker

On January 24, 2017 the 747 SuperTanker left its base in Colorado Springs, Colorado for an assignment in Chile. It returned on February 13 after dropping on many wildfires in the South American country, making as many as seven sorties in a day each with 19,200 gallons of water enhanced with an additive to help make the water more effective, since long term retardant was not available.

After 17 years as a ground based wildland firefighter, with much as it as a smokejumper, Jamie Tackman transitioned to the air, becoming a lead plane pilot. He has worked off and on with the 747 air tankers since Evergreen converted the first one. Now retired from the U.S. Forest Service, he traveled to Chile to provide lead plane services for the huge aircraft operated by Global SuperTankers. This time he had a different role, or at least a different platform, flying ahead of the air tanker as usual but in an aircraft flown by military pilots.

Bill Gabbert interviewed Jamie, who began by describing the situation. Chile has no infrastructure for supervising, using, or refilling large or very large air tankers and they were unfamiliar with the concept of lead planes. In spite of these challenges the personnel working with the 747 and the other aircraft developed procedures to fight the fires from the air, while the local firefighters improvised a system on the ground for refilling the 747 and the IL-76 with water.

Companies providing aerial firefighting resources in Chile accused of collusion in Spain

At least two companies that have received contracts for providing firefighting air tankers and helicopters in Chile have been accused in Spain of collusion and international bribery among other crimes, according to a report by Ahora Noticias. Below is an excerpt from their article; it is very roughly automatically translated by Google:

Collusion, influence peddling, bribery and international bribery, among other crimes, have led to the investigation of the companies of Faasa, Inaer and Martínez Vidau in order to discover how they managed to win several public competitions.

The publication interviewed a consultant in disaster management, Rodrigo Reveco, who implied that a cozy relationship between the companies and the Chilean non-profit organization that has a hand in managing emergency operations, may help explain why there was a reluctance to bring in other aerial firefighting assets as the disastrous wildfire conditions worsened in December.

Chile has wildland fire suppression organizations and procedures that are very different from those in, for instance, the United States. There is no one governmental agency that has the authority, responsibility, and resources to manage wildfires. Recently the President of Chile, Michelle Bachelet, said via Twitter that she would recommend legislation to create a national forest agency.

The organization that deals most closely with fires in Chile is CONAF.

From Wikipedia:

The National Forest Corporation or CONAF (Corporación Nacional Forestal) is a Chilean private, non-profit organization, through which the Chilean state contributes to the development and sustainable management of the country’s forest resources. CONAF is overseen and funded by the Ministry of Agriculture of Chile.

It administers the forest policies of Chile and promotes the development of the sector with sustainable forest management.

CONAF and ONEMI, the National Office of Emergency of the Interior Ministry, according to Ahora Noticias have awarded contracts to the private companies for helicopters and Single Engine Air Tankers (SEATs) used on fires in Chile. From Ahora Noticias (again, a very rough auto-translation by Google):

These companies have been operating in Chile for years and have won millions of tenders from Conaf, Onemi and major national private companies. In Spain and after a long investigation of justice, its managers were arrested and the modus operandis of these firms were established, which, according to the judicial investigation, were coordinated among themselves to distribute the state tenders, agree prices and conditions Of presentation and also mechanisms of bribery to public officials to adjudicate the licitations, by means of payments, gifts and favors.

Among the antecedents seized, the Spanish justice system found a series of e-mails that report similar practices on the part of these companies, in Spain, as well as in Italy, Portugal and Chile. Correos between executives who speak of agreeing prices, sharing the market and conditions of presentation to the tenders, among others.

Neither the government or CONAF committed any funds for the use of the 747 SuperTanker. Up to now it has been completely funded by private organizations, Ben Walton and his wife Lucy Ana (of WalMart) and Luksic, a Chilean business consortium.

A Chilean Senator, Manuel Jose Ossandón, called for the resignation of the director of CONAF. From Ahora Noticias (translated):

Asked about his expectations after the news broadcast in Ahora Noticias, the former RN said that ” I hope that a deep investigation is made of what is happening and that it is clarified because we are already accustomed to acts of corruption.”

In that sense, he deepened that “the director of the Conaf has to step aside and also the previous director, Mr. (Eduardo) Vial, has to explain in this regard, ” referring to the first contracts between the State and These companies that date of the year 2011, that is to say, during the government of Sebastián Piñera.

ISSUU has an article about FAASA, a Spain-based company that provides under contract firefighting helicopters and SEATs to Chile. The company employs over 300 personnel including 100 pilots and operates 65 aircraft. During the South American summer they move five AT-802s and 21 helicopters to Chile.

One of FAASA’s SEATs crashed in Chile on December 28, 2016 killing the pilot, Ricardo García-Verde Osuna, 47.

Red Cross honors crew of 747 in Chile

Above: Members of the 747 SuperTanker crew, and others, assemble after the crew received an award from the Chilean Red Cross.

The Red Cross in Chile presented each member of the 747 SuperTanker crew with an Extraordinary Services Medal, the highest honor the organization can bestow on individuals contributing to the management of emergency services.

The aircraft has been in the country since January 25 and initially flew many missions dropping water on wildfires, but Jim Wheeler, President and CEO of Global Supertanker, said today the fire activity has slowed greatly, and they have not dropped on a fire in the last five to six days. They expect to still be assigned there through Sunday, February 12, and while there is a slight chance they could be extended beyond that date, it is not likely unless the fire situation changes.

747 SuperTanker Chile
747 SuperTanker VP for Flight Operations & Chief Pilot Cliff Hale receives award from the Chilean Red Cross. The other members of the crew also received awards, including Scott Olson on the right, VP of Maintenance.

Air tanker base to be established at Austin, Texas

The base will be formally unveiled February 16, 2017.

Above: Air Tanker 43, a P2V, at the permanent (not portable) Rapid City Air Tanker Base, July 21, 2017 during the Myrtle Fire.

A new portable air tanker base is being established at the Austin-Bergstrom International Airport in Texas. The funds for the equipment were provided by the Texas Legislature through the Texas Wildfire Protection Plan.

This is the second portable base in Texas capable of refilling air tankers with long term fire retardant. The other is based in Abilene.

“This tanker base represents a monumental advancement in wildfire preparedness for our area,” said state Rep. John Cyrier, whose Central Texas district includes communities affected by the 2015 Hidden Pines Fire and the 2011 Bastrop Complex of Fires. Together, these fires burned 39,000 acres and destroyed more than 1700 homes.

The equipment will have the capacity to refill large air tankers which typically hold between 2,000 and 4,000 gallons. Bob Griffin of Representative Cyrier’s office could not say for sure if it could refill Very Large Air Tankers such as the 11,600-gallon DC-10 or the 19,200-gallon 747.

An agreement between the Texas A&M Forest Service, Austin Fire Department, and the Austin airport will make onsite real estate and tarmac space available at the airport for staging and operations as well as onsite quarters for flight crews, according to a press release.

Firefighters from the Austin Fire Department and surrounding areas will be trained on the operation of the equipment. The presence of the tanker base, together with local trained emergency personnel, will increase the speed with which air tankers can be mobilized to fight wildfires in central Texas. The equipment is portable and can be moved to fight wildfires in other parts of the state.

Videos of firefighting aircraft in Chile

We gathered some videos of firefighting aircraft in Chile, including the 747, IL-76, and the CASA.

The first one shows the 747 creating a rainbow.

The video below shows some of the capabilities of the military CASA aircraft that is serving as a lead plane in Chile. It is in Spanish but English speakers will be able to get the drift.

Below is a great shot of the 747 dropping.

Continue reading “Videos of firefighting aircraft in Chile”

Photos of Tanker 03 at Concepción

Above: Tanker 03 at Concepción, Chile. Photo by Neptune Aviation.

After a Saturday arrival at Santiago, Chile, Neptune’s Tanker 03 relocated south to Concepción where it will be based at least for a while.  Judging from the photo below it appears that portable tanks will be used to store water to refill the aircraft. This is similar to the operation at Santiago established for servicing the IL-76 and the 747.

Tanker 03 Chile
Tanker 03 parked near several portable water tanks at Concepción, Chile. Neptune Aviation photo.

One thing unique about firefighting in Chile is that most of the water systems are privately owned, rather than being operated by the government, and fire hydrants are rare.

A BAe-146 arrives in Chile

(Above: file photo of Tanker 03 taken by the Oklahoma Forestry Services last summer.)

Saturday afternoon another air tanker joined the fleet in Chile helping the firefighters deal with heavy wildfire activity that began several weeks ago. Neptune Aviation’s Tanker 03 (N475NA) arrived after a multi-day flight from Missoula, Montana.

It will be based in Concepción.