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:

Wreckage of missing Russian air tanker found

No survivors have been found.

Russian rescuers
Rescuers in Russia board a helicopter to fly to the site of the air tanker crash. Screen shot from EMERCOM of Russia video.

The wreckage of the Russian air tanker that was reported missing in Siberia on July 1 has been found. Rescuers found the debris of the Ilyushin IL-76 plane at approximately 2 a.m. Moscow time in the Kachug District, 9 km southeast of the settlement of Rybny Uyan.

Сегодня при обследовании места предполагаемого крушения самолета Ил-76 МЧС России летчиком-наблюдателем Авиалесоохраны Иркутской области Антипиным Александром в Качугском районе было обнаружено место крушения самолета Ил-76 МЧС России. В настоящее время десантники-пожарные Федеральной Авиалесоохраны в глухом лесу, где упал самолет, проводят расчистку площадки для приземления вертолета со спасателями МЧС. #леснойпожар #лес #пламя #героизм #парашютисты #десантники #огонь #пожар #лесной_пожарный #Avialesookhrana #Forest #fire #firefighter #smokejumpers #лесныепожары #bomberos #авиация #firefighterslife #пламя #aviation #plane #bombeiros #самолет #авиалесоохрана #рослесхоз #мчс #ил76 #трагедия

A photo posted by Федеральная Авиалесоохрана (@avialesookhrana) on

From the air the in the smoky conditions in the forest the only recognizable part of the aircraft was the tail.

Initially there were conflicting reports on the number of personnel on board, ranging from 9 to 11, but Russian authorities on Sunday confirmed there were 10. The remains of six and one flight recorder have been located. Marines are clearing an area to be used as a helispot.

Below is an excerpt from an article in the New Indian Express:

…A Russian aviation agencies source told TASS news agency that the plane most likely lost control because of interference from hot air from the wildfire that it was trying to douse with water.

“It’s possible that hot air from the wildfires got into the engines, the plane lost propulsion and could not gain altitude, hit the top of the trees and fell,” the source was quoted as saying.

The plane’s tail was discovered by another firefighter on today morning, said the Russian forestry agency’s aviation unit.

Last week another firefighter died on duty in Russia’s far-eastern Kamchatka region, the regional government revealed.

The forestry agency’s aviation unit said today that over 43 thousand hectares of forest land is burning in Russia, mostly in Siberia.

But Russia’s Greenpeace which monitors wildfires via satellite data said government figures are vastly underestimated, with 415 thousand hectares burning in Irkutsk region alone.

Memorial for MAFFS 7

A few days ago I stopped by the memorial to MAFFS 7 on Highway 18 in South Dakota. It honors the four people that died when the Modular Airborne FireFighting System (MAFFS) C-130 air tanker crashed in South Dakota exactly exactly four year ago today. MAFFS 7, from the 145 Airlift Wing in North Carolina, was dropping retardant to slow the spread of the White Draw Fire when it encountered turbulent air and crashed, killing Lt. Col Paul K. Mikeal, 42; Maj. Joseph M. McCormick, 36; Maj. Ryan S. David, 35, and Senior Master Sgt. Roberts S. Cannon, 50. Two crew members survived but were seriously injured, Loadmasters Chief Master Sgt. Andy Huneycutt, and Master Sgt. Joshua Marlowe.

The memorial is still in good shape three years after it was installed. It is approximately 6 miles northeast of Edgemont, SD on Highway 18 near the point of origin of the fire (map) where the motor home that started the blaze caught fire while pulling the grade between Edgemont and Hot Springs. The memorial consists of a gravel parking area with room for about six vehicles and has two interpretive panels — one describing the White Draw Fire and the other covers the accident and the four victims.

memorial MAFFS 7

memorial MAFFS 7

Photos by Bill Gabbert.

Memorial constructed for the crew of Tanker 11

On Saturday, June 3, families, friends, and coworkers gathered at the Bureau of Land Management’s Interagency Fire Center at the Cedar City Airport in Utah. They were there to honor the two pilots who died June 3, 2012 when the air tanker they were flying, Tanker 11, a P2V, crashed on the White Rock Fire near the Utah-Nevada border west of Cedar City. Killed that day were Captain Todd Tompkins and First Officer Ron Chambless, pilots for Neptune Aviation.

Tanker 11 at Libby Army Airfield, AZ, 6-15-2011 photo by Ned Harris
File photo of Tanker 11 at Libby Army Airfield, AZ, June 15, 2011. Photo by Ned Harris

A year ago firefighters in Utah began raising funds to purchase and install two 5-foot tall granite obelisks engraved with the names of the two fallen comrades and featuring a color image of Tanker 11. They were designed to be placed at the crash site, along with an interpretive sign detailing the events.

Saturday after the ceremony at Cedar City, nearly 100 people traveled to see the finished product. The following four photos were provided by Kris Bruington.

HERE is a link to Google Maps directions to the memorial site if you’re traveling from Cedar City.

Tanker 11 memorial Tanker 11 memorial

There are at least two well written online articles about the ceremony honoring the pilots, here and here.

The photos below show the firefighters installing the obelisks.

Tanker 11 memorial Tanker 11 memorial

The same day Tanker 11 crashed in 2012, the pilots of another P2V survived a harrowing landing at Minden, Nevada when only one main landing gear and the nose gear were able to be lowered and locked on Tanker 55 operated by Minden. That accident was captured on video.

Helicopter pilot killed while fighting fire in Spain

A helicopter pilot was killed on Wednesday December 23 while fighting a fire in Spain. According to the AFP the helicopter caught fire after it crashed in a rural area in the Asturias region.

When rescuers arrived the pilot, the sole occupant, was already deceased, local emergency services personnel reported.

Lawsuit accuses CAL FIRE of keeping pilots’ grieving families ignorant of death benefits

Families of firefighting pilots killed in the line of duty in California have filed a lawsuit charging that officials in the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE) intentionally misinformed them of their entitlement to death benefits.

According to the Sacramento Bee,

They “intentionally misrepresented to the survivors that the only available death benefit they might apply for was those available from” the federal government, the claim states. “Cal Fire executives made these representations knowing them to be false, and at the time they were well aware of the existence of benefits required to be paid under (state law).”

The lawsuit lists 14 pilots that were killed while fighting fires in California. Two of those were employees of DynCorp which has a contract to provide pilots and maintenance for the state’s S-2 air tankers. The other 12 worked for air tanker companies under contract to the U.S. Forest Service.

If a federal firefighter is killed in the line of duty, their survivors receive over $300,000 from the federal government under the Public Safety Officers’ Benefit (PSOB) program. The amount varies from year to year. However the PSOB denies benefits to firefighters that are not regular employees; contract or AD employees are not eligible.

The seven AD crew members that died in the 2008 helicopter crash in northern California were not eligible. The four AD firefighters that were killed in the crash of their van on the way to a fire in Colorado in 2002 were not eligible. Contract air tanker pilots are not eligible.

Families of deceased ground and aerial firefighters have fought for these benefits for years, unsuccessfully.

The lawsuit claims that CAL FIRE encouraged the pilots’ survivors to apply for the PSOB program without telling them that the California Public Resources Code requires that the state provide to them an amount equal to the PSOB benefit plus funds equal to the annual salary of a mid-career CAL FIRE firefighter.

Another interesting section of that law states that the provisions…

…shall be applicable irrespective of whether the department contracts directly with the pilot or contracts with a third party that employs or contracts with pilots.

The attorney for the lawsuit, Paul Goyette, is hanging his hat on that provision, saying it applies even to pilots working for a company that has a contract with the USFS if the fatality occurred in California. The state has a written agreement with the USFS to share firefighting resources, including aircraft.

Below is an excerpt from an article in the Sacramento Bee:

…The complaint contends that [CAL FIRE Director Ken] Pimlott and his No. 2, Janet Barentson, knew that state law requires Cal Fire pay death benefits when a contracted fire pilot is killed in the line of duty. At some point, Assistant Chief Mike Ramirez, an administrator at the department’s Ione Academy who also worked with deceased firefighters’ families, discovered the law and brought it up with both superiors, the lawsuit says.

“Defendants Pimlott and Barentson ordered Assistant Chief Ramirez not to disclose the existence of (the law) to any (of the families),” the court filing states, and threatened that “his career would be placed in jeopardy” if he disobeyed. Meanwhile, they ordered Ramirez to continue pressing federal officials to pay benefits, even though it was clear such efforts were “futile,” the lawsuit states.

Cal Fire spokeswoman Janet Upton responded with a two-sentence email to The Sacramento Bee late Friday: “No. This allegation is not true.”

Mr. Ramirez was one of the CAL FIRE employees working at their Ione fire academy that was fired after an instructor there, Battalion Chief Orville Fleming, arrested after a 16-day manhunt, was charged with and later convicted of the murder of his mistress. That investigation uncovered allegations of sexual misconduct and inappropriate alcohol use at the Ione facility. Eventually 16 CAL FIRE employees either resigned, were fired, or were disciplined. All of the disciplined employees were replaced at the academy.

The graphic below is from the Sacramento Bee.

Deceased California air tanker pilots

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Dick and Kirk.

Pilot killed in Alberta air tanker crash last month identified

For several days the name of the Conair pilot killed in the May 22 crash of an air tanker in Alberta was not released, but now we know that his name was William Hilts.

Below is an excerpt from the Edmonton Sun:

Though the family of William Hilts is grieving his loss after the plane he was piloting crashed near Cold Lake, Alta., on May 22, where he was fighting wildfires, they have found comfort in the outpouring of condolences and gratitude from the community.

“It gives us a side of him that we never thought of. We always thought of him as a pilot more than a firefighter, but then you realize the role that those guys play in the community,” said his father, Stuart Hilts.

The 38-year-old pilot was fighting wildfires in an Air Tractor AT-802 “Fire Boss” amphibious water bomber for Conair Aerial Firefighting, under contract to Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource Development (ESRD), when his plane crashed on the Cold Lake Air Weapons Range on May 22 around 5:20 p.m…

Our sincere condolences go out to the family, friends, and co-workers of Mr. Hilts.

Pilot killed in Alberta air tanker crash

From the Toronto Sun:

****

“The lone occupant of a firefighting plane that crashed Friday afternoon [May 22, 2015] in northern Alberta has died, a company spokesman confirmed.

Jeff Berry of Conair Aerial Firefighting told Postmedia Network that the plane, an AT-802 Fireboss amphibious water bomber, crashed just after 4:30 p.m. MDT, about 40 km north of Cold Lake near the Saskatchewan border.

Crews are fighting an out-of-control 300 ha wildfire in the area, in the vicinity of Burnt Lake, Alta., near the CFB Cold Lake’s weapons range and an Imperial Oil facility.

Berry said the 37-year old pilot was no stranger to fighting wildfires.

“This was his fourth season, so he was well-experienced,” Berry said.

Berry said the single-seater plane was relatively new, built in 2009.

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

He expressed his condolences to the friends and family of the pilot, and expressed his gratitude to Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource Development (ESRD) and Cold Lake Search and Rescue for their quick response.

The Transportation Safety Board of Canada was sending an investigation team, expected to arrive Saturday morning, TSB spokesman Julie Leroux confirmed.

Cold Lake is about 230 km northeast of Edmonton.”

****

Our sincere condolences go out to the the pilot’s family, friends, and to Conair.

The fire is in the Cold Lake Weapons Range, 40 km (25 miles) north of Cold Lake near Burnt Lake, and has burned approximately 3000 hectares (7400 acres).