Company issues statement about the drop gate on the air tanker that crashed in Idaho

The company that manufactures the gate that allows the retardant to be dropped from the Single Engine Air Tanker that crashed in Idaho September 22, 2020 said the FAA and the National Transportation Safety Board to their knowledge have not released preliminary findings regarding the cause of the crash.

Ricky Fulton was killed while flying the Air Tractor 802A when it crashed while attempting to drop retardant on a wildfire southeast of Emmett, Idaho.

On September 24, 2020 KWTV – NEWS9 reported that Mr. Fulton’s family said, “The preliminary finding from the FAA is saying that the dump gate malfunctioned and didn’t open to dump the fire retardant, so he wasn’t able to pull up over the ridge,”

Victor Trotter, President/CTO of Trotter Controls that made the gate, said, “Neither FAA or the NTSB has made any preliminary statements or findings regarding the cause or possible causes of the crash. We have not been notified that a gate malfunction contributed to the incident. …Air Tractor and our company is fully cooperating with the NTSB.  Documentation related to the FAA approved documents including the operation instructions (AFM), ICA (maintenance instructions), and Installation Instructions have been forwarded to the NTSB.”

The Single Engine Air Tanker that crashed was manufactured this year and was registered for the first time July 10, 2020. It was an Air Tractor 802A, N836MM, SN 802A-0836, owned by Aero S.E.A.T. Inc. of Sterling, Colorado, and was working on a call when needed contract with the Department of the Interior.

The SEAT that crashed Sept. 22 in Idaho was first registered two months ago

Ricky Fulton
Ricky Fulton

The Single Engine Air Tanker that crashed in Idaho September 22 was manufactured this year and was registered for the first time July 10, 2020. The aircraft was an Air Tractor 802A, N836MM, SN 802A-0836, owned by Aero S.E.A.T. Inc. of Sterling, Colorado. It was working on a call when needed contract with the Department of the Interior.

The pilot, Ricky Fulton, died in the accident.

The aircraft took off from Ontario, just across the Oregon border, at 6:07 p.m. MDT and was over the fire southeast of Emmett, Idaho 30 minutes later, according to FlightRadar24. It circled the fire about four times before it could no longer be detected.

SEAT flight from Ontario, ID to Schill Fire. N836MM
SEAT flight from Ontario, ID to Schill Fire. N836MM.

The family of Mr. Fulton told KWTV – NEWS 9 there was a malfunction related to the crash:

“The preliminary finding from the FAA is saying that the dump gate malfunctioned and didn’t open to dump the fire retardant, so he wasn’t able to pull up over the ridge,” family said.

It will be many months, at least, before an official report on the cause of the crash is released by the National Transportation Safety Board, so that information reportedly from the FAA should be considered preliminary at best.

NTSB SEAT crash

(Update September 28, 2020: the company that manufactures the gate that allows the retardant to be dropped from the Single Engine Air Tanker issued a statement about the crash.)

The Air Tractor 802A can hold up to 820 gallons of fire retardant weighing approximately 7,380 pounds. If any air tanker pilot is depending on the release of retardant to make it possible to clear terrain while exiting the drop area, a malfunction preventing that release would affect the aircraft’s ability to climb, possibly resulting in impact with terrain.

Our sincere condolences go out to the pilot’s family, friends, and co-workers.

Interim report released for fatal air tanker crash in Australia

All three crewmembers were killed in New South Wales, January 23, 2020

Flight path B134 air tanker crash

The Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) has released an interim report about the January 23, 2020 crash of a C-130, Air Tanker 134, that killed the three crewmembers on board. This follows the preliminary report the agency issued in February, 2020. The aircraft was known as Bomber 134 (B134) in Australia.

“The interim report does not contain findings nor identify safety issues, which will be contained in the final report. However, it does detail the extensive evidence gathered to date, which has helped ATSB investigators develop a detailed picture of this tragic accident’s sequence of events,” said ATSB Chief Commissioner Greg Hood.

Tanker 134 at Medford, Oregon
Tanker 134 (B134) at Medford, Oregon July 27, 2019. Photo by Tim Crippin.

It was very windy on January 23, with a forecast for the possibility of mountain waves. Before the incident a birddog, similar to a lead plane, and  Bomber 137 (B137), formerly Tanker 138, a Boeing 737 that Coulson sold to New South Wales, was tasked to drop on a fire in the Adaminaby area. Based on the weather the birddog pilot declined the assignment. After B137 made a drop on the fire, the crew reported having experienced uncommanded aircraft rolls up to 45° angle of bank (due to wind) and a windshear warning from the aircraft on‑board systems.

After completing the drop, the B137 crew sent a text message to the birddog pilot indicating that the conditions were “horrible down there. Don’t send anybody and we’re not going back.” They also reported to the Cooma FCC that the conditions were unsuitable for firebombing operations. During B137’s return flight to Richmond, the Richmond air base manager requested that they reload the aircraft in Canberra and return to Adaminaby. The Pilot in Command (PIC) replied that they would not be returning to Adaminaby due to the weather conditions.

B134 was dispatched to the fire at Adaminaby. While they were in route, the PIC of B137 called to inform them of the actual conditions, and that B137 would not be returning to Adaminaby.

After arriving at Adaminaby the PIC of B134 contacted the air operations officer at the Cooma FCC by radio and advised them that it was too smoky and windy to complete a retardant drop at that location. The Cooma air operations officer then provided the crew with the location of the Good Good Fire, about 58 km to the east of Adaminaby, with the objective of conducting structure and property protection near Peak View. Again, there was no birddog operating with the air tanker.

B134 flight path air tanker crash
Flight path overview (in white), including the times and locations of where the crew of B134 was in communication with others. From the report.

Analysis of a witness video confirmed that the aircraft initially established a positive rate of climb and was banking to the left following the retardant drop, the report details. Continue reading “Interim report released for fatal air tanker crash in Australia”

Excellent graphical representations of aircraft working on fires

Aircraft profiles, LNU Lightning Complex of fires
Aircraft profiles, LNU Lightning Complex of fires, Aug. 22, 2020. Reuters graphic.

Reuters has an excellent series of graphics showing how aircraft of all types are used on wildfires. The authors of the piece, Simon Scarr, Marco Hernandez, and Manas Sharma, must have spent days distilling a massive amount of data into easily digestible images, and in one case an animated graphic. Incredible work — check it out.

The image above is a time line showing the altitude of individual aircraft, from 1 p.m. on the left to 8 p.m. on the right. At about 7 p.m. there were 14 working, three OV-10s, seven S-2Ts, and four large air tankers. (In this graphic they transposed a couple of the characters in the model names of two tankers, but they get a pass for the overall great work.)

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

Pilot killed in Idaho air tanker crash

Sunset Idaho
BLM

Updated September 23, 2020  |  3:33 p.m. MDT

The Bureau of Land Management has provided more information about the crash of a single engine air tanker:

“On Tuesday, Sept. 22, 2020, at approximately 7 p.m. MDT, a Single Engine Air Tanker with one pilot on board was involved in a fatal accident during initial attack operations on the Schill Fire, located approximately 2 miles southeast of Emmett.

“The pilot, Ricky Fulton, perished. The aircraft, T-857, was owned by Aero S.E.A.T. Incorporated and was on an on-call contract with BLM Fire and Aviation at the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise. Firefighters on the scene rendered medical aid to the pilot and called for Life Flight, but the pilot did not survive his injuries.

“The 30-acre Schill Fire started at approximately 4:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 22 in grass and brush in steep terrain. It was contained at approximately 10 p.m. on Tuesday. The cause of the Schill Fire is under investigation.”


Originally published September 23, 2020  |  8:58 a.m. MDT

The Bureau of Land Management announced that the pilot of a single engine air tanker (SEAT) was killed Tuesday evening September 22 while working on a wildfire near Emmett, Idaho. The agency said more information will be released following family notifications.

KTVB reported the accident occurred near Pearl Road about two miles southeast of Emmett. The fire started around 4:30 p.m. and grew to 25 acres as two SEATs and one helicopter assisted firefighters on the ground. According to the Gem County Sheriff’s Office, the air tanker was dropping retardant when it went down.

This is the sixth firefighting pilot and the third SEAT pilot to be killed in the United States this year. In addition, three members of the crew of a C-130 from the U.S. died when their air tanker crashed January 23, 2020 while fighting a bushfire in New South Wales, Australia.

Our sincere condolences go out to the pilot’s family, friends, and co-workers.

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

Photos of northern California firefighting aircraft, part 2

Smokejumper aircraft, N145Z
Smokejumper aircraft, Short Bros SD3-60 Sherpa, N145Z

Dylan Phelps sent us these photos that he captured at various Northern California airports in the first part of September as our firefighters were going up against one of the most vicious wildfire seasons on record.

Thanks Dylan!

AIR TANKER 103, N293EA
T-103, MD-87, N293EA, Photo by Dylan Phelps
Smokejumper aircraft, N109BH
Smokejumper aircraft, Construcciones Aeronauticas C-212-CC, N109BH, photo by Dylan Phelps
SEAT, N349AS
SEAT, Air Tractor AT-802A, N349AS, Photo by Dylan Phelps
MAFFS 1
MAFFS 1, C-130, photo by Dylan Phelps
MAFFS 6
MAFFS 6, C-130, photo by Dylan Phelps
Retardant mixing plant
Fire retardant mixing plant, photo by Dylan Phelps
air tanker 52 C-FKFA
T-52, Convair CV-580, C-FKFA, photo by Dylan Phelps

View from the cockpit as air tanker assists firefighters on the Comet Fire near Ely, Nevada

September 19, 2020 | 7:55 p.m. MDT

air tanker cockpit view drop wildfire
The view of the Comet Fire from Tanker 871 in Nevada, August 6, 2020. From video by Jim Watson.

Ride with Jim Watson, the pilot of Single Engine Air Tanker 871, as he sizes up and then drops retardant on the Comet Fire near Ely, Nevada, August 6, 2020. You won’t actually see the retardant because it comes out of the bottom of the aircraft. The SEAT is owned by GB Aerial Applications.

Excellent video of DC-10 dropping through smoke

DC-10 dropping on the Almeda Fire
DC-10 dropping on the Almeda Fire, September 8, 2020. Screenshot from the Loren Julien video.

Update September 18, 2020:  The video was shot during the Almeda Fire in Southern Oregon September 8, 2020 by Loren Julien. It was just after he put sprinklers on his sister Annette Julien’s house and left the area —  the house seen with the wet roof. Ms. Julien told me her house did not survive.