Single engine air tanker damaged while scooping in Alaska

Air Tractor 802A Fire Boss
File photo of N80166 on the Snake River Fire.

A single engine air tanker (SEAT) was damaged as it scooped water while working on a fire north of Fairbanks, Alaska July 14, 2020. Thankfully the pilot was not seriously injured.

The aircraft is an Air Tractor 802A Fire Boss, N80166, operated by Dauntless Air.

I reached out to the company’s CEO, Brett L’Esperance to get more information:

After almost three hours fighting fire from the same scoop site, one of our Fire Bosses “caught an edge” at the beginning of a scoop and got pulled hard right.  Pilot tried correcting and almost pulled it off, but did end up running up on the bank of the scoop site and got stuck in the mud.

Airframe is fine, right wing was dinged by a tree on the edge of the lake and we’re assessing damage to the floats.

Pilot was not even bruised, but did scratch his thumb climbing out if the aircraft.

Below is the press release from the BLM Alaska Fire Service:

“(Fairbanks, Alaska) – No injuries were reported after an aircraft incident during suppression efforts on a wildfire about 120 air miles north of Fairbanks Tuesday afternoon. A BLM Alaska Fire Service dispatch center was notified at 3:56 p.m. of a incident involving a AT-802A Air Tractor Fire Boss working on the 15-acre Birch Creek Fire about 17 miles northwest of Circle. The Single Engine Air Tanker was one of six aircraft – four Fire Boss water scoopers, a helicopter and an air attack airplane guiding the suppression efforts – aiding eight BLM AFS smokejumpers on the ground. The aircraft was scooping out of an unnamed body of water about 2-3 miles north of the fire when the incident occurred. Two qualified emergency medical technician smokejumpers assessed the condition of the pilot, who was the sole occupant of the airplane and didn’t identify any injuries. The pilot was flown via BLM AFS helicopter to Fairbanks for further assessment at Fairbanks Memorial Hospital and released. The aircraft was deemed inoperable and will be removed from the scene after further investigation into the incident.

“The aircraft is owned by Dauntless Air Inc. of Appleton, Minn. and is one of four SEATs contracted by BLM AFS for Alaska’s fire season. All four were working on the fire at the time of the incident. The Department of the Interior Office of Aviation Services and the National Transportation Safety Board were notified.”

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Bob. Typos or errors, report them HERE.

Rough day for a DC-4

Air Tanker 15, a DC-4, with damage vertical stabilizer
Air Tanker 15, a DC-4, with damage to the vertical stabilizer. Photographed by Manny D-man 01 at Fresno, California (perhaps in the early 1990s).

(Originally published at 5:40 p.m. PDT May 10, 2020)

Manny D-man 01 sent us this photo of air tanker 15:

I was looking through some old photos and ran across a couple you might be interested in. I was a Deputy Sheriff/Detective assigned to an office located down the street from the Fresno Air Terminal.

I took these pictures in the early 1990’s, at the Fresno Air Tanker Base. If I remember correctly this tanker was making a drop down a canyon and tangled with either a tree or a high tension line from one of the power generation plants. It may have been at the POWERHOUSE fire, I spent several days up there manning a roadblock.

Some of our readers can probably tell us what happened to the vertical stabilizer. (UPDATE at 9:30 p.m. PDT May 10, 2020: Tom Monterastelli sent us the link to the NTSB report which is now posted below the photo of the BAe-146.)

T-15 can be seen in the Airailimages video below, at 0:20, 0:58, and 6:02.

According to registration records, N2742G was owned by Aero Union from 1982 until it was sold to Buffalo Airways in 2005. After the sale the registration was changed to C-FBAP.

Currently a Neptune BAe-146 is identified as Tanker 15.

Air Tanker 15, a BAe-146, at Rocky Mountain Metropolitan Airport (JEFFCO) September 2, 2108. Photo by Andrew Morton.

The NTSB report:

NTSB Identification: LAX95TA304

On August 23, 1995, at 1500 hours Pacific daylight time, a Douglas C-54G, N2742G, collided with some unmarked static lines during an aerial application of fire retardant on a fire near Auberry, California. Visual meteorological conditions existed at the time. The aircraft was substantially damaged and returned to Fresno, California. The two crewmembers were not injured. The aircraft is owned by Aero Union in Chico, California, and operated as a public-use aircraft by the California Department of Forestry (CDF). The aircraft had departed from Fresno at 1448.

According to the CDF, the aircraft (Tanker 15) had made multiple runs on the local fire and was proceeding through a canyon area when the aircraft passed through two unmarked static lines that stretched across the canyon. The lines damaged the three propeller blades to the number 4 engine and severed the top 1/3 of the vertical stabilizer. The crew maintained control of the aircraft and made an uneventful landing at Fresno.

At the direction of the NTSB Investigator-In-Charge, several interviews were conducted by CDF investigators with personnel involved in the accident. Their in-depth interviews are attached to this report. The following is a summary of those interviews.

According to the Air Attack Officer-in-Charge of the fire fighting operation, a non-pilot, he indicated that he was aware of the power lines in the area. He advised the lead pilot of the wires and that he should not make the drop if he felt the conditions were unsafe. He had previously seen the lines that Tanker 15 eventually collided with, but was not aware of their height above the ground or the vertical distance between the two static lines and the sagging power lines below them. He was flying at 4,000 feet mean sea level (msl). He did not witness the collision.

The pilot in the lead aircraft, a light twin-engine aircraft, had made a clearing pass and informed the pilots in several other tanker aircraft of the power lines in the area. He did not mention the height of the lines. He was behind Tanker 15 when he heard of the collision and circled around and proceeded to join on the damaged aircraft to assess the damage. According to this pilot, there was smoke in the area, but the visibility was clear. He saw the lower power lines when he passed over the area, but did not see the higher static lines.

The pilot in Tanker 15 stated that he was aware of the power lines, and after being cleared for his run, he proceeded to turn right and continue down the drop line. He noticed quite a drift and moved the aircraft off to the side to further avoid the wires for safety purposes. As they descended to the drop point, the copilot looked out of the cockpit, saw the static lines, and called for engine power and flaps. The pilot then saw the lines in front of the windshield and went under the lines instead of trying to go over them because they were at a low airspeed with flaps extended. He said the visibility was clear and wasn’t aware of the higher static lines on three previous passes in the area.

The pilot in Tanker 96, following 1/4- to 1/2-mile behind Tanker 15, heard the warning about wires in the area and was not aware of the higher static lines above the power lines. He did not see the static lines until Tanker 15 collided with them. At this time, he felt he had enough room between the two sets of wires and elected to go under the static lines. He made the drop and then joined on Tanker 15 to help assess the damage.

Another pilot following Tanker 96 saw the power lines but not the static lines. After the collision was reported, he saw the static lines and dove under them at an altitude of 150 feet above the ground. He radioed a warning about the second set of wires to the tanker pilot following him. He indicated that the higher static wires were located where one would not normally expect to find them. He felt that the warning about wires in the area was only marginally helpful in dealing with the existing wire hazard.

The CDF prepared a diagram with photographs of the existing ground profile depicting the elevation of the terrain, the location of the wires, the height above the ground, and the distance between the two sets of wires. At the point of impact, the power lines were about 140 feet above the ground. The static lines were 150 feet above the power lines and are oriented along a south-southwest to north-northeast direction. The flight of the tanker aircraft was depicted on the map as flying along a northerly course.

Report released for crash of Air-Crane helicopter into lake

The accident occurred in Australia in January, 2019

Air-crane helicopter crash Australia report
From the ATSB report.

The Australian Transport Safety Bureau determined that the Air-Crane helicopter that crashed into a lake January 28, 2019 in Victoria, Australia was a victim of vortex ring state (VRS). The accident occurred on a firefighting mission as it descended to draft water at a narrow lake with steep sides.

From the report released April 17, 2020:

The topography, high rate of powered descent, and steep flare that reduced the airspeed, created conditions conducive to the onset of VRS. The crew reported that the rapidity of onset and dimensions of the dip site did not provide enough time or space to maneuver sideways to effect a recovery.

Air-Crane crash Australia helicopter
The Air-Crane crashed in a lake surrounded by rising terrain.

Here is what I wrote about the accident on January 28, 2019 in a comment below the report of the accident:

If the helicopter was attempting to hover to draft water to refill its tanks, the fairly narrow section of the lake with what appears to be steep rising terrain nearby may have been a factor in the confined space. The Air-Crane has six blades on the main rotor with a diameter of 72 feet. It may have encountered what helicopter pilots refer to as a “Vortex Ring State” or VRS. The canyon slopes may have prevented the massive rotor wash from diffusing and could have caused the cushion of air beneath it to become chaotic as the helicopter neared the water surface, reducing lift.

VRS in addition to density altitude was a factor in the crash of the MH-X Silent Hawk that transported Seal Team 6 as they attacked the hideout of Osama bin Laden in Pakistan in 2011. The helicopter was landing inside a yard surrounded by high walls when it lost lift. The pilots had practiced landing in a full-scale model of the site, but the walls in the model were represented by chain link fencing material, and were not solid like the walls around Osama bin Laden’s house. The rotor wash would have been more easily diffused through the chain link fence during the rehearsals.

Air-Crane 341
Air-Crane 341. From the report.

Two crewmembers were not injured, but one sustained a knee injury. In May, 2019 the helicopter was recovered after a complex salvage process.

Air-Crane extracted from lake crash

Below are excerpts from the ATSB report about the Air-Crane incident (which you can view here):

…After a number of water drops, the aerial attack supervisor (AAS) re-tasked the crew to fight a flame front further north, which was east-northeast from the dip site. Each drop was also incrementally further north. This resulted in the crew gradually tightening the approach to the dip site.

During the occurrence approach, the tighter approach resulted in a greater than normal flare to arrest the aircraft at the aiming point in the dip site. The higher nose pitch up prompted the SIC to advise the PIC to move forward of the trees before descending any further to ensure tail rotor clearance. Clear of the trees, the flare was increased.

While descending with a nose-high attitude, the aircraft struck the water tail-first, submerging and removing the tail rotor, causing rapid rotation to the right through one and half turns. While rotating, the main rotor blades separated as they contacted water. The right cockpit door separated from the fuselage, and the aircraft came to rest on its left side, submerging the cockpit.

Each crewmember recalled the rehearsed drills from their helicopter underwater escape training (HUET). They identified their seat belt and nearest exit to orientate themselves in the aircraft. They all waited until the last moment to draw a breath, and did not unbuckle and exit the helicopter until motion had ceased. The crew reported that it was not possible to see anything underwater, and that jet fuel contamination was present.

The SIC in the right seat exited through his doorway, from which the door was already missing. The PIC could not open his door so he swam across the cabin (up) and was assisted by the SIC to exit through the right hand door. As the rear door was jammed, the crew chief in the aft seat pushed out a window from the rear of the cabin, and exited through it.

Neither pilot unplugged their helmet. However, the extension cords from the aircraft to the helmet plug allowed the plug to release, preventing the helmets from snaring the pilots. All three crew escaped, and inflated their life jackets. Two crew were uninjured, and one crewmember sustained a knee injury.

At the time of the accident, crews aboard S-76 and S-61N helicopters were assessing the potential of the dip site for later use in night operations. An AAS aboard the S-76 relayed details of the accident to an incident controller who enacted the emergency response plan. Neither the S-76 nor the S-61N was equipped or able to provide direct assistance, other than monitoring, and relaying information. Following exit from the helicopter, the only form of communication available to the Skycrane crew was hand signals. They gave thumbs-up indications to the crew of the overhead S-61N to advise that they were okay. The Skycrane crew then swam to shore and trekked through dense bush to a road where they were met by rescuers.

These findings should not be read as apportioning blame or liability to any particular organization or individual.

  • The crew conducted a tight descending right hand turn into the dam [lake], inside the upper margins of the flight envelope. This approach required a steep flare on arrival and likely resulted in the rapid onset of vortex ring state.
  • The dam’s [lake’s] steep sides and narrow tapered body provided limited opportunity for vortex ring state recovery actions, contributing to collision with water.
  • The Crew Chief’s presence aboard the aircraft during firebombing operations exposed him to unnecessary risk.
  • All crewmembers credited their survival to skills learned and practiced in Helicopter Underwater Escape Training. In addition, the helmet cord extension cables detached easily from the aircraft, contributing directly to the crew’s egress from the flooded cockpit.

Report released on crash of firefighting helicopter in Queensland

The Bell 214B crashed while on a water-dropping mission Nov. 13, 2019

B214 helicopter crash Queensland November 13 2019
Bell 214, Queensland, Australia, November 13, 2020. Photo by operator.

The Australian Transport Safety Bureau has released an Occurrence Brief regarding the Bell 214B that crashed while it was on a water dropping mission near Pechey, Queensland, Australia November 13, 2019.

The pilot suffered minor injuries and was flown to a hospital by another helicopter.

Below is the complete text of the Brief. (We added the photo taken by 9News):

Occurrence Briefs are concise reports that detail the facts surrounding a transport safety occurrence, as received in the initial notification and any follow-up enquiries. They provide an opportunity to share safety messages in the absence of an investigation.

What happened
On 13 November 2019, a Bell 214B helicopter was water bombing during fire control operations near Pechey, Queensland. At 1344 Eastern Standard Time, the helicopter approached the bushfire downwind and down hill from the north-west at about 60 knots, and made a descending right-hand turn back into wind over the fire.

The descent was continued towards the drop zone. The airspeed was further slowed and the height was reduced to about 150 feet above ground level (50 feet above treetop level). The pilot then released the load of water before departing the drop area into rising terrain. The pilot heard the low rotor RPM warning and had insufficient altitude and clearance from obstacles to recover the rotor RPM and continue flying. He was concerned that further actions required to recover the rotor RPM would result in the helicopter possibly striking trees or ending up in the actively burning fire.

Helicopter Down crash Queensland Australia
Bell 412B crashed while working on a fire near Pechey, Queensland, Australia November 13, 2019. Photo by 9News

In maintaining the climb to avoid rising ground, trees and fire, the rotor RPM appeared to decay further. As the helicopter cleared the trees, it began to descend, yawed to the right and the left-hand skid collided with the ground. The helicopter rolled onto its left side resulting in substantial damage. The pilot was able to turn off the fuel to stop the engine and exited the helicopter via the overhead window with minor injuries. Neither the g-force activated ELT beacon or flight tracking alarm were triggered.

The distance from the last water drop to the impact point was less than 100 metres and the recovered aircraft showed little evidence of damage from forward moment.

B214 helicopter crash Queensland November 13 2019
Bell 214, Queensland, Australia, November 13, 2020. Photo by operator.

Operator’s investigation and comments
Based on the pilot’s account of the accident and assessment of the recovered aircraft, mechanical malfunctions were ruled out as a contributing factor. The operator determined that the accident was most likely the result of a loss of rotor RPM that the pilot was unable to recover, due to a downwind descending turn, low altitude for the water drop, and a departure into rising terrain. The pilot had to make a decision between putting the helicopter into tall trees and active bushfire or climbing over the trees to clear ground. In choosing the latter, the rotor RPM decayed further and the helicopter contacted the ground.

The operator stated that the helicopter type is renowned for its ‘hot and high’ performance making it a very effective firefighting platform. Firefighting combines a number of factors which result in flying that is close to the performance limits of the aircraft – high gross weights, low airspeeds, low altitude, close quarters manoeuvring, high work rate environment and adverse weather conditions. In this case the combination of factors immediately leading up to the accident resulted in the helicopter operating outside its performance envelope without having enough space and height to recover.

Safety action
As a result of this occurrence, the aircraft operator has advised the ATSB that they are taking the following safety actions:

The operator has provided a briefing to all of their pilots on the circumstances and the outcome of this accident. The pilot involved in this accident will be involved in future training and checking to enable the recognition and avoidance of the circumstances that saw the limitations and flight envelope exceeded. This training will become part of the operator’s annual training for all pilots conducting fire control operations.

Safety message
Fire control flying operations can involve challenges and complexities that require crews to maintain a heightened awareness of their aircraft’s operating limits and the environmental conditions. Flying within operating limits can ensure pilots have a performance margin to react to unforeseen circumstances.

About this report
Decisions regarding whether to conduct an investigation, and the scope of an investigation, are based on many factors, including the level of safety benefit likely to be obtained from an investigation. For this occurrence, no investigation has been conducted and the ATSB did not verify the accuracy of the information. A brief description has been written using information supplied in the notification and any follow-up information in order to produce a short summary report, and allow for greater industry awareness of potential safety issues and possible safety actions.

Air Attack aircraft lands without landing gear lowered

After the mechanical malfunction, the crew walked away

landing gear failure

Above: photo from the preliminary report

A malfunction of the landing gear system on a Cessna 337 resulted in the Air Attack crew having to land without the landing gear lowered. The incident occurred August 8, 2018 at the Lewiston-Nez Perce County Regional Airport in Idaho.

Thanks to excellent crew resource management everything turned out about as well as it could have, considering the pilot had to land the aircraft on its belly.

Below is the text from the preliminary report:

At approximately 1730 hrs Nxxx was on a 3 mile final for runway 30: while on final the pilot initiated extending the landing gear. Both the pilot and I had a routine of verifying gear extension/retraction by looking out the window and verifying the correct color of the landing gear lights on the instrument panel. While on 3 mile final we did not observe our landing gear through the window or have “3 green” lights indicating that our landing gear was down and locked.

The pilot cycled the landing gear lever and checked the circuit breaker: our landing gear did not extend. We notified XXX air traffic control tower that we were experiencing an issue with our landing gear and requested a low level fly by to have the tower provide visual confirmation of the status of the landing gear. The tower reported that our gear doors were open: however out landing gear was still retracted. Nxxx gained altitude and requested clearance to remain within the XXX airspace south of the field.

As we gained altitude we verified that we had approximately 1.5hrs of fuel remaining. I offered assistance to the pilot by asking “what can I do to help… what do you need from me?” the pilot handed me the emergency procedure checklist and asked me to find the “landing gear fails to extend” checklist. I located the checklist and began to read the checklist to the pilot over the ics system: actively participating in the emergency checklist trouble-shooting process. The emergency checklist instructed us to pull the circuit breaker for the electric hydraulic pump, extend the manual gear pump handle, pump 95 times and look for the landing gear to “extend”. Both the pilot and I attempted pumping the handle several 95+ pump cycles and the manual handle pumped easily without resistance. Based on the lack of resistance during the pumps we determined that we were not building hydraulic pressure. Continue reading “Air Attack aircraft lands without landing gear lowered”

Making a withdrawal from the Bank of Experience

Sully, the movie about the Miracle on the Hudson that opened today has so far received pretty good reviews. As you may know, it is about the aircraft that struck a flock of geese at 3,200 feet about 100 seconds after taking off from La Guardia airport near New York City.

Captain Chesley Sullenberger
Captain Chesley Sullenberger. Photo by Ingrid Taylar.

Chesley B. Sullenberger III was the pilot in command. After both engines went silent he said to his First Officer whose turn it was to take off on that flight, “My aircraft”.

Captain Sullenberger, now often called “Sully”, was selected for a cadet glider program while attending the Air Force Academy. By the end of that year he was an instructor pilot. When he graduated in 1973 he received the Outstanding Cadet in Airmanship award, as the class “top flyer”. He went on to fly F-4 Phantoms in the Air Force and served as a member of an aircraft accident investigation board in the Air Force. After he became a commercial pilot for US Airways he occasionally assisted the NTSB on accident investigations and taught courses on Crew Resource Management.

When the geese hit the engines January 15, 2009, Sully felt the impact, but more disturbing was the the sensation after the engines quit of slightly moving forward in his harness as the aircraft suddenly went from accelerating to slowing — at low altitude over New York City when they were supposed to be climbing.

US Airways did not have a checklist for the loss of both engines in an Airbus A320 at low altitude. The First Officer, Jeffery Skiles, went through the checklist for restarting the engines, but of course had no success. Sully evaluated their options — returning to La Guardia, diverting to Teterboro airport, or the third choice, a water landing in the Hudson River. Based on his experience, and drawing on his background as a glider pilot, he determined that it was impossible to make it to either airport. He lowered the nose and headed toward the river.

Passing 900 feet above the George Washington Bridge he pointed the aircraft so it would come to rest near a boat he spotted, thinking that it could help pull the passengers out of the very cold water on that winter day. Working with his First Officer, they made the only non-fatal water landing of a large commercial aircraft in recent history.

Airbus Hudson river
US Airways Flight 1549 in the Hudson River. Photo by Greg L.

As the 150 passengers and four other crew members climbed out onto the wings and waited for rescue by ferry boats, Sully walked through the passenger compartment as it took on water to make sure everyone was off, then grabbed the maintenance log book and was the last one to exit the aircraft.

In a  recent interview Katie Couric conducted with Sully director Clint Eastwood and actors Tom Hanks and Aaron Eckhart, she recalled something Sully, who at the time had 19,663 flight hours, told her not long after the successful water landing:

For 42 years I’ve been making small regular deposits in this bank of experience, education, and training. On January 15 the balance was sufficient so I could make a very large withdrawal.

In the last few decades wildland firefighters have used another name for the “bank of experience”, their “slide file” —  memories of the situations they have been in over the course of their careers, good experiences and bad ones, all of which left data from which they can extrapolate solutions to new situations.

There is of course no substitute for an account balance in a bank of experience or a slide file. You can acquire incremental bits of it from books and training. But you can’t write a check and easily transfer it to someone else, not entirely, anyway. It has to be earned and learned, organically.

And here’s hoping you don’t have to “make a very large withdrawal”, on the ground or in the air.

Be-200ES strikes tree, lands safely

Be-1200ES wing damage tree strike
This is reportedly damage to the wing of a Be-200ES after striking a tree while fighting a wildfire in Portugal.

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.

Since last week two Be-200ES air tankers have been on loan to Portugal by the Russian Ministry of Emergency Situations after a rash of numerous fires in the country and on Madeira Island.

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.

Landing gear failure grounds CL-415 air tankers in France

CL-415 landing gear failure
CL-415 landing gear failure on a CL-415 in France closed the airport at Ajaccio, Corsica on Tuesday. Photo SSLIA 2A.

On Monday the right side main landing gear on a CL-415 air tanker failed while the aircraft was taxiing prior to taking off at the Ajaccio, Corsica airport. When the gear collapsed the right side wing dropped to the ground damaging the float and causing some fuel to spill from a damaged fuel tank.

There were no injuries to the crew of the air tanker but the airport was closed for several hours until the aircraft could be moved.

The entire fleet of twelve CL-415s in France are grounded until an inspection can determine the cause of the gear failure. Depending on the findings, inspections may be required on all of the aircraft.

Corsica is an island in the Mediterranean Sea belonging to France.

Below is a excerpt from a statement issued by Civil Security. It is roughly translated from French by Google:

The accident investigation office of Defense (CRDP), competent for state aircraft (…) triggered an investigation. Alongside technical survey is conducted in conjunction with the aircraft manufacturer, the Canadian company Bombardier.

Following these analyzes, which should take about 48 hours, Bombardier will determine whether it is necessary to carry out inspections on the landing gear of the Canadair fleet of civil security and in what protocol before allow the resumption of operations.

In addition to the CL-415 water scoopers, France also has access to S2-T and Dash 8 air tankers.

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Jerome and Jan.