Remembering the crews of Air Tankers 123 and 130

air tanker 130 memorial
Screenshot from the KOLO TV video.

KOLO TV has a very nice four-minute video tribute to the crew that was killed June 17, 2002 when their C-130A air tanker, Tanker 130, crashed while fighting a wildfire near Walker, California killing all three on board. It includes a short interview conducted minutes before the accident with Steve Wass, one of the pilots. The other two crew members were Craig LaBare and Mike Davis. The video has the well-known footage of the wings falling off the air tanker as it crashed just after making a drop.

A month after the crash of T-130, a P4Y-2 Privateer, T-123, crashed while maneuvering over a fire near Estes Park, Colorado. Both pilots, Ricky Schwartz and Milt Stollak were killed.

Tanker 123 crash near Estes Park, CO, July 18, 2002
Tanker 123 crash near Estes Park, CO, July 18, 2002. Credit: Matt Inden – Special to The News

The NTSB determined that the cause of both crashes was in‑flight structural failure due to fatigue cracking in the wings, and that maintenance procedures had been inadequate to detect the cracking.

These accidents changed aerial firefighting. The Forest Service banned certain models of old war birds and developed new contract specifications regarding inspections and stress monitoring. During the next ten years the large air tanker fleet atrophied, shrinking from 44 on exclusive use contracts in 2002 to 9 in 2012. Not much was done to restore the program until eight days after two pilots were killed in crashes of two P2V air tankers on the same day in 2012  — the Forest Service issued contracts for seven “next generation” air tankers manufactured in the 1980s and 1990s, taking a small step toward partially rebuilding the fleet. As the fire season began in 2018, 13 large air tankers were on federal exclusive use contracts.

memorial at Greybull, Wyoming air tanker crashes 2002
A memorial at Greybull, Wyoming for the crashes of two air tankers in 2002, T-123 and T-130.

10 thoughts on “Remembering the crews of Air Tankers 123 and 130”

  1. Is there any sort of memorial to T-123 in the Estes Park/Lyons area? I’ve spent a fair amount of time there and am not familiar, but would like to swing by if there is.

    1. I haven’t seen it, but I believe there’s one at Lions Gulch trailhead, a large pulloff where you’ll often see many horse trailers, just before the large paved pullout with the Welcome to Estes Park rock sign. Hope that helps and you find it!

    2. It is at the Big Elk Meadows Volunteer Fire Department station up County Road 47, off of Highway 36 between Estes Park and Lyons

    3. I was there in May for the first time. Rick was my stepbrother, and community has a very special wonderful 8′ tall engraved plaque.

      Plus the USFS has a plaque by the ridge..

  2. In the late sixties my parents tanked a couple of DC-6’s . They worked really well and were really solid airframes for the task at hand . These were literally the first civilian airliners used in firebombing . They were 121 airplanes and they were maintained very well . Could not buy a contract for them . Dad leased one to Conair and they loved it . Finally converted one them into cargo plane and used on pipeline contract .

    I remember when the operators started using the C-130A after some trading with warbirds . My dad had extensive knowledge of operating the L-382 ( civilian Herc) . He had some real reservations about the A model being used because of poor wing design on the Herc.

    Kind of funny today that after fifty years the commercial jets are now finding there place .

    A lot of pilots sacrificed their lives flying the old WW 2 planes . Looks to be much safer today .

    I cannot wait until the operators get their hands on the A-10 . I think it will be the best firebomber of all !

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