Reports from numerous media outlets that an air tanker crashed in Portugal on Tuesday appear to be false.
A spokesman for Portugal’s Civil Protection Agency says none of the aircraft fighting the wildfires in the country are missing, in spite of the fact that Portugal’s Air Accident Office said it had received a call from the Civil Protection Agency notifying it of a plane crash.
The origin of the erroneous information may have come from a reporter for Antena 1 radio who said he heard an explosion about 10 miles away from the Pedrogao Grande area which has been hit by devastating wildfires in recent days. He said a local woman told him she saw a plane crash in a fireball on Tuesday. There have also been reports of propane tanks exploding in the fires.
It is possible that the lady saw an aircraft and the unrelated explosion, which appeared to be associated with the plane.
A Be-200ES struck a tree August 14 while fighting a fire in Portugal but thankfully was able to land safely at Leiria. The jet-powered amphibious water scooper sustained major damage to a pontoon, the right wing leading edge, and the right side wing flaps. There were no reports of injuries to the crew. Other photos of the damage can be seen here.
This is not the first time a Russian Be-200 hit a tree in Portugal. A similar accident occurred July 6, 2006 when the aircraft was leased to the Portuguese government as a trial to evaluate its effectiveness. After scooping water on a lake the left wing hit a tree.
From the Portuguese newspaper Correio da Manhã at the time:
…While hitting the top of the trees, leaves and some wood entered the left engine, which didn’t blow up, but that had to be turned off and the pilot was forced to release fuel for safety reasons. The release of the fuel started small wildfires across the area, reaching some houses, which were quickly extinguished by firefighters and helitack units of the GNR’s Intervention, Protection and Rescue Group.
The airplane was able to do an emergency landing at the Monte Real Air Base.
Until this month, Be-200 air tankers had not been used in Portugal since the 2006 incident. Maybe they’ll wait another 10 years before they try again.
A Russian news service is reporting that the two Be-200 Russian-made amphibious scooping air tankers have been effective in Portugal. Quoting the Russian Emergencies Ministry, Sputnik News wrote:
“Overall, two Emergencies Ministry aircraft carried out 37 discharges of water, the total mass of which amounted to 444 tonnes, tackling fire in four spots and saving four settlements and two national parks,” the statement reads.
“The Russian Emergencies Ministry’s airgroup, consisting of two Be-200ES aircraft, continues to work on extinguishing large forest fires in Portugal. On August 15, [Russian pilots] extinguished two fires covering a total area of 500 hectares [over 1,200 acres],” the statement reads.
It is possible the effectiveness of the aircraft is exaggerated. Air tankers do not “extinguish” fires. Under ideal conditions they can slow them down, allowing firefighters on the ground to move in closer and put them out.
A Russian-built Kamov KA-32 helicopter made a crash landing in British Columbia Sunday, August 4. Jen Norie of VIH Aviation Group confirmed that one of their helicopters was conducting water dropping operations on a wildfire near Bella Colla, British Columbia using an external bucket when the aircraft developed an engine problem. The ship made a hard landing on uneven terrain collapsing at least one landing gear, which caused the aircraft to tip over about 30 degrees. The twin overhead counter-rotating main rotors struck the ground, which of course destroyed them.
Thankfully the two pilots walked away with no injuries, so in that sense it was a “good landing”. There were no passengers on board.
Ms. Norie said the company has been operating KA-32s since the mid-1990s, accumulating over 46,000 flight hours without a major incident, until Sunday.