NTSB report on the crash of Tanker 11

Air Tanker 45
Air Tanker 45, similar to Tanker 11, on final to drop on the Whoopup Fire near the South Dakota/Wyoming state line in 2011. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

The National Transportation Safety Board probable cause report on the June 3, 2012 crash of Tanker 11 concluded that while preparing to drop retardant on the White Rock fire near the Utah/Nevada state line, the flight crewmembers “did not properly compensate for the wind conditions while maneuvering”. The aircraft impacted the ground before it reached the location for the intended drop, causing the death of pilots Todd Tompkins and Ron Chambless.

A photographer got some pictures of the tanker as it was attempting to make the drop (below). It is likely that the pilots jettisoned the retardant when it became obvious they were too low.

tanker 11 crash
Tanker 11 before the crash. Photo from NTSB.

The P2V, operated by Neptune Aviation, was about to make its second drop on the fire that day. Shortly before the crash it made a dry run over the target area, then when lining up for the drop on the next pass took a different path, which was lower, and made a wider right turn, according to the report.

T11 flight pathThe same day that Tanker 11 crashed, another P2V, Tanker 55 operated by Minden, had a mechanical failure and landed at Minden, Nevada with a main landing gear not fully extended. The aircraft was heavily damaged, but there were no serious injuries. The landing was recorded on video.

In June of this year Tanker 48, another Minden P2V, landed with a collapsed nose gear. Thankfully there were no reported injuries.

We covered the 2012 accidents on Wildfire Today (before Fire Aviation was created).

On June 26, 2010 air tanker 44, a P2V operated by Neptune Aviation also experienced a hydraulic failure upon landing, had no brakes, and went off the runway at Rocky Mountain Metropolitan Airport (JeffCo) in Colorado (map). Both pilots self-evacuated and were walking around when the fire apparatus arrived to put out a fire in one of the engines. Neptune repaired the aircraft and put it back into service.

The NTSB released a nine-page Factual Report on the crash of Tanker 11. Below is the complete text of the one-page probable cause report, released September 24, 2014:

****

14 CFR Public Use
Accident occurred Sunday, June 03, 2012 in Modena, UT
Probable Cause Approval Date: 09/24/2014
Aircraft: LOCKHEED P2V-7, registration: N14447
Injuries: 2 Fatal.

NTSB investigators either traveled in support of this investigation or conducted a significant amount of investigative work without any travel, and used data obtained from various sources to prepare this public aircraft accident report.

Tanker 11 departed the tanker base to conduct its second fire retardant drop of the day in the same location. Upon arriving in the fire traffic area, Tanker 11 followed the lead airplane into the drop zone, which was located in a shallow valley 0.4 mile wide and 350 feet deep. The lead airplane flew a shallow right turn onto final and then dropped to an altitude of 150 feet above the valley floor while approaching the intended drop zone. While making the right turn onto final behind the lead airplane, Tanker 11’s right wing tip collided with terrain, which resulted in a rapid right yaw and subsequent impact with terrain. The wreckage created a 1,088-foot-long debris field, and a postimpact fire ensued.

Two witnesses took photographs of the accident sequence photos, and an examination of these photographs showed that the lead airplane was positioned ahead of the tanker throughout the flight; however, the orientation of the lead airplane compared to the orientation of Tanker 11 indicated that Tanker 11 did not directly follow the lead airplane’s path to the final drop course. Rather, it was about 700 feet left of the lead airplane’s path and made a wider right turn as it attempted to align with the final drop course. The accident flight crewmembers had previously flown nearly the same exact drop and the lead pilot cautioned them about tailwind conditions during the flight; however, the wider turn suggests that they did not properly compensate for the wind conditions while maneuvering. In addition, the previous flight was conducted at an altitude above the ridgeline. GPS evidence indicates that the accident flight was conducted below the ridgeline, which would have made it more difficult to detect the rising terrain during the wider turn. A review of the airplane’s cockpit voice recorder audio information revealed that the flight crew did not recognize or attempt to correct the reduced clearance between Tanker 11 and the rising terrain until about 2 seconds before impact.

The National Transportation Safety Board determines the probable cause(s) of this accident as follows:

  • The flight crew’s misjudgment of terrain clearance while maneuvering for an aerial application run, which resulted in controlled flight into terrain. Contributing to the accident was the flight crew’s failure to follow the lead airplane’s track and to effectively compensate for the tailwind condition while maneuvering.

 

Former Carson Helicopters VP pleads guilty to charges related to crash that killed 9 firefighters

Carson helicopter

Today in federal court in Medford, Oregon, a second person pleaded guilty to charges related to the crash of a helicopter in 2008 that killed nine wildland firefighters.

Steven Metheny, 44, the former Vice President of Carson Helicopters, pleaded guilty to one count each of filing a false statement and of conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud while submitting documents to obtain $20 million in firefighting contracts with the U.S. Forest Service.

Read the rest of the story at Wildfire Today.

Memorial service for air tanker pilot planned

Firefighters will gather to pay their respects to airtanker Pilot Geoffrey “Craig” Hunt who paid the ultimate sacrifice with his life while fighting the Dog Rock Fire near El Portal, California. A celebration of Craig’s life, with full Line of Duty Death fire service honors, will take place Tuesday, October 21, 2014 at 10 a.m.

On October 7, 2014, Dyncorp Pilot Geoffrey “Craig” Hunt was involved in a fatal crash while flying a CAL FIRE S-2T Airtanker over the Dog Rock Fire burning near Yosemite’s Arch Rock.

“We continue to mourn the tragic loss of Craig.” said Chief Ken Pimlott, CAL FIRE Director.

“We know wildland firefighting is an inherently dangerous job, but Craig made the ultimate sacrifice.”

“Our thoughts and prayers are with the pilot’s family during this difficult time,” said Jeff Cavarra, program director for DynCorp International.

Geoffrey “Craig” Hunt was born October 14, 1951 in Richmond, IN. He is survived by his wife, Sally, who he married in September of 1975, and his two daughters, Nancy Hunt and Sarah Hunt Lauterbach. Hunt served as a US Navy P3 pilot from 1975-1984 and was in the reserves for 20 years. Hunt earned a Master’s in Business as well as in Biochemistry and was a chemistry teacher in the off season at the University of Santa Cruz. He had a love for flying, golfing, fishing, hiking, bird watching, scuba diving, math/sciences, teaching and dogs.

“My dad died a hero. There was not a day that went by that I didn’t talk to my dad. He was my best friend”, said Sarah Hunt Lauterbach.

Memorial Service
Location: Church on the Hill, 500 Sands Dr., San Jose, CA 95125
Date: Tuesday, October 21, 2014 at 10 a.m.
Attire for uniformed personnel is to be either Department Class A Uniform or Work Uniform with tie.
Public Safety Departments or Agencies that wish to attend or send apparatus for the memorial static display, please click here. Please arrive at the church by 9:00 a.m. for set up.

Cards can be sent to the family in care of:
The Hunt Family
c/o CAL FIRE Firefighters Local 2881
1731 J Street, Ste. 100
Sacramento, CA 95811

In lieu of flowers donations can be made to:
G. Craig Hunt Memorial Fund
Ashville School
360 Ashville School Road
Ashville, NC 28806
This fund will be designated for scholarship and athletics at the Ashville School.
Contact: Tom Marberger at (828) 254-6345 ext. 4081

Geoffrey "Craig" Hunt
Geoffrey “Craig” Hunt. Courtesy of Mr. Hunt’s family.

NTSB has tentatively ruled out mechanical issues as cause of T-81 crash

CAL FIRE Director Ken Pimlott
CAL FIRE Director Ken Pimlott addresses the media on October 10, 2014, concerning the status of the investigation into the crash of Tanker 81 on October 7. On the left in the white shirt is NTSB investigator Josh Cawthra. Over Director Pimlott’s right shoulder is CAL FIRE Chief Pilot Bill Payne.

In a press conference on Friday an investigator for the National Transportation Safety Board said they have tentatively ruled out mechanical issues as the primary cause of the October 7 crash of the air tanker on the Dog Rock Fire near Yosemite National Park in California.

Pilot Geoffrey “Craig” Hunt was killed when the S-2T air tanker impacted the ground while he was attempting to make his second retardant drop on the fire.

NTSB investigator Josh Cawthra said that while it is early in the investigation which will take six to eight months to complete, mechanical or fatigue issues do not appear to be factors in the crash. In addition, he said they have received no reports of turbulence in the drop area. They expect to have a preliminary report available on the NTSB website within about five days.

The investigators began by conducting an aerial recon over the crash site to become familiar with the very steep terrain and the extent of the debris field. After the fire activity had diminished, they documented it from the ground.

The team has completed the on-scene portion of the investigation but they still need to recover, reconstruct, and examine some portions of the wreckage which are scattered over an area about 1/4 mile long. There is still some active fire in the area, and they will be working with CAL FIRE and the National Park Service to remove the aircraft parts after the fire has cooled down.

The investigators will be looking at “man, machine, and the environment”, Mr. Cathra said, and:

This accident is extremely tragic. We have a community that was threatened by a wildland fire, there were evacuations being done. These pilots put their life on the line. They were out there in a very — it’s a controlled environment, but yet there is also an amount of risk. And it is something that affects everybody as a whole. We get to know these pilots as well throughout the year. Our primary mission with the NTSB is to figure out what happened, why it happened, and how we can prevent this from ever occurring again.

Director Ken Pimlott said beginning today, Friday, CAL FIRE will start transitioning their tanker pilots back into their aircraft, after having been grounded since immediately after the accident. Each of them will be evaluated, but some, he said, will require more time to deal with the tragedy than others.

He recognized and thanked the U.S. Forest Service for providing air tankers to cover the state of California while the 22 remaining S-2Ts were not available. Providing that coverage was made less complicated by the lack of wildfire activity in the rest of the United States.

In the video of the press conference below, the people you will see, in the order of  appearance, are:

  1. Daniel Berlant, CAL FIRE Information Officer
  2. Ken Pimlott, CAL FIRE Director
  3. Josh Cawthra, NTSB Investigator
  4. Bill Payne, CAL FIRE Chief Pilot, and
  5. Daniel Berlant, CAL FIRE Information Officer

FAA releases preliminary cause of S-2T crash

Geoffrey "Craig" Hunt
Geoffrey “Craig” Hunt. Image courtesy of Mr. Hunt’s family.

The Federal Aviation Administration’s web site lists the preliminary cause of the crash of Tanker 81, an S-2T, as a “wing striking a tree”. That is consistent with information we have from witnesses of the accident.

The Fresno Bee reported that Keith Halloway, a spokesman for NTSB which is the lead investigating agency, said Wednesday evening that the board may have a preliminary report next week, but determining a probable cause for the crash could take 12 to 18 months.

The pilot of the S-2T that died in the air tanker crash on October 7 was Geoffrey “Craig” Hunt, age 62, of San Jose. He was a 13-year veteran pilot with DynCorp International which has the contract to maintain and operate the 23 S-2T air tankers for CAL FIRE. Mr. Hunt was attempting to drop retardant on the Dog Rock Fire near Yosemite National Park in California when the accident occurred.

More information:

Geoffrey "Craig" Hunt
Geoffrey “Craig” Hunt. Photo courtesy of Mr. Hunt’s family.

Pilot in Yosemite crash identified

crash site
The crash site a few minutes after impact. Much of the wreckage fell down the rock face, with some of it landing on the highway below. Photo by Ken Yager.

The pilot of the S-2T that died in the air tanker crash on October 7 has been identified as Geoffrey “Craig” Hunt, age 62, of San Jose. He was a 13 year veteran pilot with DynCorp International. DynCorp has the contract to maintain and operate the 23 S-2T air tankers for CAL FIRE. Mr. Hunt was attempting to drop retardant on the Dog Rock Fire near Yosemite National Park in California when the accident occurred.

Geoffrey "Craig" Hunt.
Geoffrey “Craig” Hunt.

“We continue to mourn the tragic loss of Craig,” said Chief Ken Pimlott, CAL FIRE director. “We know wildland firefighting is an inherently dangerous job, but Craig made the ultimate sacrifice.”

“Our thoughts and prayers are with Craig’s family during this difficult time,” said Jeff Cavarra, program director for DynCorp.

Mr. Hunt’s body was watched over Tuesday night by fire and rescue personnel and was recovered Wednesday morning. A National Park Service honor guard then transferred Mr. Hunt to CAL FIRE personnel.

Immediately after the crash, CAL FIRE grounded their remaining air tankers, which is standard procedure after a serious accident.

A graphic photo of the flaming wreckage falling down the steep slope has been posted at a rock climbing forum.

The S-2T air tanker, registration number N449DF, was designated Tanker 81, one of 23 S-2Ts that are maintained and flown by DynCorp for CAL FIRE. The agency also has one spare that is used to fill in as needed when an aircraft is undergoing maintenance. CAL FIRE hires their own pilots for their 11 UH-1H Super Huey helicopters, but they are also maintained by DynCorp.

The last time a CAL FIRE air tanker crashed was in 2001, when two tankers collided while fighting a fire in Mendocino County, killing both pilots, Daniel Berlant, spokesperson for CAL FIRE said.

The agency had another plane crash in 2006, when a battalion chief and a pilot were killed in the crash of an air attack plane in Tulare County.

The S-2 first flew in 1952 and the U.S. Navy discontinued the use of them in 1976. They were used for detecting enemy ships and submarines and for dropping torpedoes. The ones currently being used by CAL FIRE were converted from piston to turbine engines between 1999 and 2005. Some media outlets are incorrectly reporting that the Tanker that crashed on Tuesday was built in 2001. That may be the date that it was converted to turbine engines and was given the new model name S-2F3 Turbo Tracker. They are now commonly referred to as S-2T, with the “T” standing for turbine engine.

More information about the crash and the Dog Rock Fire is at Wildfire Today.

Our sincere condolences go out to the family, friends, and coworkers of Mr. Hunt.

S-2T crashes while fighting Yosemite fire

CAL FIRE has announced that an S-2T air tanker has crashed while fighting the Dog Rock Fire in Yosemite National Park in California. There is no word yet about the condition of the pilot. Emergency personnel are hiking to the crash site.

More information is at Wildfire Today.

Air tanker pilot killed in Spain

From Waypoint Airmed & Rescue, dated May 26, 2014:

A pilot was killed when the AT802 plane she was flying crashed into a hillside during a firefighting mission in Almeria, Spain, at around 14:20 hrs on 25 May. The 40-year-old woman, named in reports as Sonia Morales Martínez, was part of an INFOCA team tackling a wildfire in the Sierra de Los Filabres in the Serón area. INFOCA released a statement of condolence to the pilot’s family, noting that she had extensive experience in aerial firefighting including over 5,000 hours’ flight time on this model of plane. She also served as a flight instructor.

Witnesses reported seeing unusual movements in the plane’s tail before it fell to the ground and burst into flames. It is believed that the pilot was killed on impact.

A Spanish language article about the accident can be found at ABCandalucia.

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