Report released about the 2014 crash of an AT-802 in British Columbia

On July 14, 2016 the Transportation Safety Board (TSB) of Canada released the Investigation Report about the crash of a Conair Air Tractor AT-802A that occurred August 14, 2014. The crash took place as the air tanker was attempting to lift off after scooping water on Chantslar Lake in British Columbia. The pilot incurred minor injuries and the aircraft sank.

AT-802F
File photo of an Air Tractor 802-F. Air Tractor photo.

The investigators concluded that a wing stalled either independently or in combination with an encounter with a wing-tip vortex generated by another aircraft.

Below is the TSB’s Summary of the incident:

An Air Tractor AT-802A on amphibious floats (registration C-GXNX, serial number AT- 802A-0530), operating as Tanker 685, was carrying out wildfire management operations during daylight near Chantslar Lake, British Columbia. Three similar aircraft were working as a group with Tanker 685, which was second in line on a touch-and-go to scoop water from Chantslar Lake. Upon liftoff, control was lost and the aircraft’s right wing struck the water. The aircraft water-looped, and the floats and their support structure separated from the fuselage. The aircraft remained upright and slowly sank.

The pilot received minor injuries, egressed from the cockpit, and inflated the personal flotation device being worn. The third aircraft in the formation jettisoned its hopper load as it continued its takeoff and remained in the circuit. The fourth aircraft jettisoned its hopper load, rejected its takeoff, and taxied to pick up the accident pilot. There was sufficient impact force to activate the on-board 406- megahertz emergency locator transmitter, but the search-and-rescue satellite system did not detect a signal from the emergency locator transmitter until the wreckage was being recovered 6 days later.

The TSB’s findings, in part:

1. A wing stalled either independently or in combination with an encounter with a wing-tip vortex generated by the lead aircraft. This caused a loss of control moments after liftoff, and resulted in the right-hand wing tip contacting the water and in a subsequent water-loop.

2. The operator’s standard takeoff procedures did not specify a liftoff speed for scooping operations. Lifting off below the published power-off stall speed contributed to a loss of control at an altitude insufficient to permit a recovery.

3. The takeoff condition, with the aircraft heavy, its speed below the published power-off stall speed, and a high angle-of-attack contributed to the loss of control.

4. An understaffed management structure during organizational changes likely led to excessive workload for existing managers. This contributed to risks, contained within the standard operating procedures, not being addressed through the operator’s safety management system, resulting in continued aircraft operations below published minimum airspeed limitations.

The report states that Conair hired a safety manager and a company check pilot for the Fire Boss fleet before the 2015 spring training season started. And, Conair adopted a risk mitigation plan for 2015–2016, applicable to the company’s AT-802 fleet. The plan addresses issues mentioned in the TSB report, plus an additional issue identified in-house.

The year following the August 14, 2014 crash on Chantslar Lake there were three incidents that we are aware of that involved Conair AT-802’s:

Helicopter crew training in British Columbia

We posted the Tweet below, because the activity in the photo with the helicopter not is something we have previously seen.

13 firefighting aircraft grounded by a drone

On August 16 firefighting aircraft were forced to halt air operations on the Testalinden Creek and Wilson’s Mountain Road wildfires in British Columbia due to an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (or drone) flying over the fire.

Eight helicopters and five fixed-wing aircraft that were supporting firefighters were grounded, significantly impacting fire suppression operations.

The Oliver RCMP is currently working with the BC Wildfire Service in relation to this incident.

Martin Mars completes first mission on BCWS contract

Martin Mars after July 18 mission
Martin Mars on Sproat Lake after a July 18, 2015 mission. Coulson Photo.

On Saturday, July 18, the Martin Mars flying boat completed its first mission under their new 30-day contract with the British Columbia Wildfire Service. According to Coulson Flying Tankers, the owner of the water-scooping air tanker that can hold up to 7,200 gallons, the aircraft flew a total of 8 hours. Of that, 4 was spent ferrying across the province and back, and the other 4 was used to drop 9 loads of water for a total of 52,800 gallons. They did it without having to land and refuel.

Coulson said the aircraft dropped 158,503 gallons in one day on fires near Lake Shasta in northern California in 2008. In the late 1970s, according to the Coulson company, the Hawaii Mars dropped 200,000 gallons in one day.

Martin Mars gets 30-day contract

Martin Mars test
A Martin Mars test water drop over Sproat Lake on Vancouver Island, B.C., July 10, 2015. Coulson photo.

The Martin Mars 7,200-gallon flying boat air tanker has received a 30-day contract with the government of British Columbia. It was serviceable on Sunday, July 12 but since then has not been dispatched to any fires.

CKNW AM radio is reporting that the contract specifies a daily availability rate of $15,000 and a flight hour rate of $6,000. The average rates for the 14 large air tankers that the U.S. currently has under exclusive use contracts are a daily rate of $22,901 and $8,408 for each flight hour. Of those 14 air tankers, 13 of them can carry up to 2,000 to 4,000 gallons, and the DC-10 holds 11,600 gallons.

On their Facebook page, Coulson Flying Tankers, the company that owns the two Martin Mars air tankers, explained how this 30-day firefighting contract will affect their previous plans to train pilots from China who will be flying a new amphibious aircraft now being built:

…Coulson has a contract with International Test Pilot School (ITPS) from Ontario, Canada dating back to October of 2014. The contract is for Chinese Test Pilots to familiarize themselves with the largest float plane in the world.

The Chinese government currently has under construction the second largest seaplane in the world called a TA 600, which these pilots will be flying.

The original contract was between July 20 to July 30, but a modified contract is now in place where the aircraft will train the test pilots between July 20-26.

Coulson has also negotiated with ITPS the condition that the Mars must stay on call to the BCFS and a procedure has been worked out to remove flight crew being trained so the Mars can go to a fire if called.

We appreciate both the flexibility of ITPS and the BCFS to work out a solution to accomplish the goal of servicing both customers.

Air tanker crashes in British Columbia lake

A single engine air tanker crashed in a lake in British Columbia Friday afternoon, July 10. The Air Tractor 802-F Fire Boss amphibious air tanker was scooping water from Puntzi Lake (map) at about 2:15 p.m. when the Conair plane had some sort of difficulty and sank. The pilot was not injured, according to Bill Yearwood with Transportation Safety Board.

Mr. Yearwood said,“We are quite familiar with the aircraft and its operation and there is no information to suggest there’s been any problems in advance of this.”

The fire that the aircraft was working on is on the west side of Puntzi Lake, about 130 kilometers (81 miles) west of Williams Lake. At the last report it had burned about 1,200 hectares (2,965 acres).

Puntzi Lake air tanker crash
The pointer marks the location of Puntzi Lake, the site of the air tanker crash in British Columbia.

This was the 4th crash or serious incident involving a Conair single engine air tanker in the last 13 months.

On May 22, 2015 another Conair 802-F Fire Boss crashed in Alberta, killing the pilot.

An engine failure on Conair’s Air Tanker 699, an Air Tractor AT-802A, during training resulted in damage to a float upon landing. The incident occurred April 11, 2015 on Harrison Lake, BC, 33 nm NNE of Abbotsford.

A Conair Air Tractor 802-F Fireboss crashed and and sank August 14, 2014 while scooping water on Chantslar Lake in British Columbia, Canada about 30 kilometers west of Puntzi Mountain. Jeff Berry of Conair said the pilot was able to exit the Single Engine Air Tanker, but was held overnight in a hospital in William’s Lake and released Friday morning.

AT-802F Fire Boss
File photo of one of Conair’s AT-802F Fire Boss air tankers. Photo by Peter Unmuth.

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

Video of Tanker 489 dropping on a fire in B.C.

The video shows multiple retardant drops by Air Spray’s Tanker 489, a Lockheed Electra, on a fire in Kokanee Creek Provincial Park in British Columbia (map).

Here is the description provided by the videographer:

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“Published on 4 Jul 2015
Fire season has arrived in the Kootenays! This video was taken July 3rd, 2015 showing the new small forest fire near Kokanee Creek Provincial Park towards Kokanee Glacier. This video features many of the aircraft involved in battling the blaze including water bombers, air tankers and helicopters with bambi buckets.

–The aircraft featured in this video include:
–Air Spray Lockheed L-188 Electra Airtanker
–Air Spray Twin Commander 690 Birddog C-FZRQ
–Cessna Caravan Birddog
–Selkirk Mountain Helicopters Aerospatiale AS 350 B-2 C-GSKL with water bucket
–Air Spray Air Tractor 802 Fire Boss Amphibious Tanker Plane

This was my first time ever seeing aircraft fighting a wildfire in person and it was truly an impressive sight. It was especially cool seeing the massive Electra turboprop diving down into the valley near Kokanee Creek Park and dumping fire retardant onto the flames.”

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BONUS VIDEO

This video of an MD-87 dropping on a fire in Laguna Canyon in southern California on July 3, 2015 is shot from pretty far away but you can clearly see the retardant and after the drop, the air tanker as it exits the area closer to the camera. It looked like an excellent drop. I could not make out the tanker number.

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BONUS VIDEO #2, added July 9, 2015

I found this video today, and it looks like the same air tanker, the MD-87, making another drop on the fire in Laguna Canyon. It’s interesting how at 0:48 it disappears into a canyon while making the drop.