Air tanker crashes in Texas lake, pilot rescued

The scooping air tanker was refilling at Lake Livingston

Updated 8:53 a.m. CDT August 10, 2022

Fire Boss crash
One of the floats from the AT-802F that crashed August 9, 2022. KETK

Aviation Safety Network reports that the Single Engine Air Tanker that crashed in Lake Livingston in Texas August 9 was an Air Tractor AT-802F Fire Boss (N830DA) operated by Aero Spray Inc, DBA Dauntless Air. Reportedly it lost control on takeoff after scooping water and then submerged. The pilot was rescued with unspecified injuries and treated on scene.

The image below from FlightAware shows the last flight of the aircraft.

Flightaware tracking N830DA, August 9, 2022
Flightaware tracking of N830DA, August 9, 2022

Aviation Safety Net has records of 122 Air Tractor AT-802 mishaps since May 18, 1997 that resulted in 48 fatalities. In addition to firefighting, the aircraft is used for agricultural operations, commonly referred to as crop dusting. But without being able to drill down and know the number of accidents per 100,000 flight hours, it is difficult to determine if what may look like troublesome numbers is actually an artifact of flying a high number of hours.

7:27 p.m. CDT August 9, 2022

Map, August 9, 2022 helicopter crash in Lake Livingston, Texas
Map, August 9, 2022 helicopter crash in Lake Livingston, Texas.

Tuesday afternoon, August 9, a single engine air tanker working on a wildfire in southeast Texas crashed in Lake Livingston. The pilot was quickly rescued, taken to shore, and treated.

The accident was announced by the Texas Forest Service’s Lone Star State Incident Management Team which said the agency was assisting with wildfires in the Corrigan area.

The incident occurred at about 5 p.m. CDT. Lake Livingston is 25 miles southwest of Corrigan and 55 miles northeast of Houston.

The Air Tractor 802 Fire Boss is amphibious. It has floats and can skim across the surface of a lake to refill its water tank, then fly to the fire and assist firefighters by dropping water. The Texas Forest Service does not own any air tankers, they issue contracts to private companies.

When we hear more about the condition of the pilot we will update this article. An 802 Fire Boss usually only has one person on board.

Air Tractor 802 Fire Boss
File photo, Air Tractor 802 Fire Boss. Not the aircraft that crashed August 9, 2022.

There have been two other incidents in the last seven days involving Air Tractor 802 Fire Boss air tankers.

On August 3 a Fire Boss suffered an engine failure and made a forced landing while working on a fire in British Columbia. The pilot survived.

Two days later on August 5 a Fire Boss crashed and sank in the Gulf of Elefsina while working on a fire near Nea Peramos in Greece. It occurred about 12 miles west of Athens as the air tanker was scooping water. Both crew members were rescued.

There have been three recent fatal helicopter crashes related to wildfires.

On July 16 a Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office Bell UH-1H Huey helicopter crashed northeast of Albuquerque, New Mexico, killing all four on board. It had been assisting with a wildfire, providing bucket drops and other air logistics needs to fire crews on the ground.

A Boeing CH-47D helicopter crashed into the Salmon River July 20, 2022 while working on the Moose Fire in Idaho, firefighters swam across the river to extract and care for the two pilots. Unfortunately, both of the pilots died from their injuries.

On June 26 a Bell UH-1B operated by Northern Pioneer Helicopters out of Big Lake, Alaska was attempting to assist firefighters by hauling equipment to the Clear Fire by a 125-foot long line. It was maneuvering at the Clear Airport 53 miles southwest of Fairbanks about 140 feet above the ground to have the end of the long line connected to the cargo. A loud noise was heard and the helicopter fell to the ground, killing the pilot, the only person on board.

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

Military to purchase Air Tractor 802s capable of carrying weapons and surveillance equipment

Sky Warden, AT-802U
Sky Warden, AT-802U. L3 Harris photo.

Tricked out Air Tractor 802U aircraft are going to be purchased by the US military after being outfitted with surveillance equipment and the capability of carrying weapons.

U.S. Special Operations Command has awarded a $3 billion contract to L3Harris Technologies to build up to 75 Sky Wardens. They expect to begin delivery in fiscal year 2026 with full operating capability in 2029.

The basic aircraft, AT 802U, will be built by Air Tractor at their Olney, Texas aircraft manufacturing facility. L3Harris Technologies will add the additional equipment beginning in 2023 at their Tulsa, Oklahoma modification center.

L3Harris said the Sky Warden will provide close air support, precision strike, armed intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR), strike coordination, and forward air controller requirements for use in austere and permissive environments.

Air Force Magazine wrote that commander of Air Force Special Operations Command Lt. Gen. James C. “Jim” Slife testified before Congress in April that the Armed Overwatch program was designed to reduce the need for so-called “air stacks” of specialized, single-role aircraft to fly together over objective areas. In particular, the aircraft will likely be used to counter terrorist threats, often in coordination with troops on the ground.

Air Tractors AT-802U Paris Air Show 2009
Air Tractor AT-802U photographed at the 2009 Paris Air Show.

Air Tractor is known for producing single engine agricultural spraying and firefighting aircraft. But the 802U has been around for at least 13 years after making a big splash at the 2009 Paris Air Show outfitted with bombs, rockets, and .50 caliber Gatling guns. (Wildfire Today, June 18, 2009)

There was a report in 2014 that the United States was considering modifying either the AT 802U or a Thrush to be sent to Yemen to battle terrorists. They were to be equipped with laser-guided missiles and high-tech electronic intelligence equipment, as well as armor to protect the crew.

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Morgan and Gerald.

Air tanker crashes in Greece, crew rescued

NATO sends 40 aircraft to assist firefighters in Greece

Last flight of VH-FBZ airplane crash air tanker
Last flight of VH-FBZ, an Air Tractor 802F Fire Boss, August 5, 2022.

On August 5 a single engine air tanker, an Air Tractor 802F Fire Boss, crashed and sank in the Gulf of Elefsina while working on a fire near Nea Peramos in Greece. It occurred about 12 miles west of Athens as the air tanker was scooping water. Both crew members were rescued.

The Fire Boss, registration VH-FBZ, was operated by Pays Air Service in Australia. It was one of a number of aircraft that migrated from Down Under to assist in Greece during the Northern Hemisphere fire season.

Air Tractor 802 Fire Boss, Conair Tanker 88
File photo of an Air Tractor 802 Fire Boss. This is not the aircraft that crashed. Photo by Larry Belzac.

NATO sends air support for Fires in Greece

The NATO Support and Procurement Agency (NSPA) has deployed 40 aircraft to assist Greece with their wildfires. This is the 11th year in a row that the NSPA has reinforced the firefighting air fleet in Greece.

This will include 29 firefighting helicopters (9 Heavy Lift and 20 Medium Lift). And, for the first time, 11 fixed wing airplanes will be available to actively support firefighters on the ground.

2,600-gallon water bucket developed for large helicopters

Kawak 2,000-gallon water bucket
Kawak 2,600-gallon water bucket

(Updated at 9:34 a.m. Aug. 9, 2022. Based on information from Andy Mills of Kawak Aviation, we edited this article to show that the bucket holds 2,600 gallons, not 2,000 gallons as stated by the TV station.)

Kawak Aviation has developed a bucket to enable a large firefighting helicopter to transport and drop 2,600 gallons of water. The company based in Bend, Oregon says their Cascade bucket is the largest bucket built in North America.

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Steve and Gerald.

Video of DC-10 drop in Montana

The Matt Staff Rd Fire east of Helena

Tanker 914, a DC-10, dropping on the Matt Staff RD Fire
Still image from video of Tanker 914, a DC-10, dropping on the Matt Staff RD Fire. Montana DNRC.

The Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation posted an excellent video of air tanker 914, a DC-10, dropping retardant on the Matt Staff Rd Fire.

The fire has burned 1,538 acres 13 miles east of Helena, Montana between Canyon Ferry Lake and US Highway 287.

All evacuations on the fire were lifted at 8 p.m. Friday, August 5th.  Matt Staff Road is still closed to the public. Montana’s County Assist Team assumed command of the fire at 12 p.m. on August 5th. The cooler temperatures and brief rain Saturday morning were beneficial to firefighting efforts.

The drop

The terrain seen in the video is not extreme, but appears to be outside the parameters NASA expected for a very large air tanker such as a DC-10.

Here is an excerpt from the NASA report issued March 2, 2009, titled “USFS Very Large Air Tanker Operational Test and Evaluation.”

The analysis suggests that for level or gently rolling terrain where level to slight descents (< 6-7%) are required, VLAT-class aircraft could probably be employed with few restrictions as long as they remained above 300’ AGL during the delivery.

Check out the video below posted by Kevin Osborne showing a DC-10 making a downhill drop in 2012 on the Goff Fire on the Klamath National Forest in Northern California.

Names of fires

On a related subject, here is my plea for initial attack and dispatcher personnel to keep the names of fires simple. One word is preferred, but certainly no more than two. Think about how many times the name will have to written, spoken, and typed into forms. Will spelling be easy, or will it be misleading, such as “Camp Fire”, or Road vs Rd?

Air tanker makes forced landing in British Columbia

Air Tractor 802 Fire Boss
File photo of an Air Tractor 802 Fire Boss operated by Conair. Not necessarily the aircraft involved in the incident.

A single engine amphibious air tanker made a forced landing Tuesday while working on a wildfire in British Columbia.

“This evening a Conair 802 Air Tractor Fireboss Skimmer aircraft experienced an engine failure during operations on the Connell Ridge Wildfire, near Cranbrook,” said BC Wildfire Service Executive Director Ian Meier. “The pilot conducted a successful forced landing and was transported to receive medical assessment. Our thoughts are with the pilot involved in this incident as well as their family, friends and colleagues. The BC Wildfire Service is providing all possible assistance to the pilot and Conair.”

Jeff Berry, Director of Business Development with Conair Aerial Firefighting confirmed the pilot was able to walk away unharmed from the aircraft to a helicopter and was transported to Cranbrook for assessment by paramedics.

“His skill and training as an aerial firefighting pilot under challenging circumstances enabled him to execute an exceptional emergency maneuver resulting in a safe outcome,” said Berry. “He was faced with a problem with the engine, he went through his emergency procedures, and put the aircraft down in such a way that he was able to walk away unharmed. Faced with a difficult bunch of decisions in a very, very short period, he did exceptionally well.”

The Connell Ridge Fire 14 miles south Cranbrook, BC has burned approximately 1,235 acres  (500 hectares) since it was discovered August 1, 2022.

Connell Ridge Fire map, August 3, 2022 forced landing air tanker
Connell Ridge Fire map, August 3, 2022

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

Fire Traffic Area, July 22, 2022

BAe-146 air tanker drops Winding Fire in Northern California, June 18, 2022
BAe-146 air tanker drops on the Winding Fire in Northern California, July 18, 2022. AlertWildfire.

Today we are continuing an occasional weekend feature we started in June called Fire Traffic Area. This post serves as the beginning of an open thread where readers can leave comments about issues not yet covered — or maybe they have been covered. This is literally an off-topic thread. What do you think needs to be pointed out, asked, or discussed within the fire aviation community? You have the floor.

The usual rules about commenting apply. And remember, no personal attacks or politics, please.

Forest Service confirms firefighters swam to extract pilots from helicopter that crashed into river

N388RZ Boeing CH-47D crash
N388RZ Boeing CH-47D preparing to take off at Penticton Airport in British Columbia July 16, 2022. Image from VMC Aviation Videos. The helicopter crashed into the Salmon River July 21, 2022.

Today the US Forest Service confirmed reports that when the Boeing CH-47D helicopter crashed into the Salmon River July 21, 2022 while working on the Moose Fire in Idaho, firefighters swam across the river to extract and care for the two pilots. Unfortunately, both of the pilots died from their injuries.

Four teams from the FS are investigating the incident. In addition, the agency is providing Critical Incident Stress Management (CISM), clinician, and peer support to affected individuals. The National Transportation Safety Board is conducting an investigation to determine the cause of the crash.

The official “72-Hour Report” is below.

USFS 72 Hour Report Moose fire helicopter crash