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.

One of the four Alaska Department of Forestry employees hospitalized after airplane crash has been released

Aniak aircraft Crash
The wreckage of an Alaska Division of Forestry aircraft that crashed on takeoff at the Aniak, Alaska airport, May 28, 2020. Photo by David Mattson.

(This is updated information from the Alaska Department of Forestry about the aircraft crash that we earlier reported covered on May 28 and May 29.)

Three of the four Division of Forestry employees injured in a plane crash in the Western Alaska village of Aniak on Thursday are recovering in Anchorage hospitals today while the fourth has been treated and released.

The three individuals still hospitalized suffered serious but non-life threatening injuries and are in stable condition.

The pilot was identified as Mark Jordan, of Eagle River. The three emergency firefighters on board were identified as Albert Simon, of Hooper Bay; Craig Friday, of Hooper Bay; and Kelly Kehlenbach, of Aniak. The plane was en route from Aniak to McGrath, where the firefighters were to be outfitted for an assignment to support initial attack responses at the Kenai/Kodiak Area forestry station in Soldotna.

The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the crash, which occurred shortly after the plane took off from the Aniak airport at approximately 4 p.m. The plane, a state-owned Aero Commander 500 Shrike, crashed into a pond in a gravel pit.

Aniak aircraft Crash
The wreckage of an Alaska Division of Forestry aircraft that crashed on takeoff at the Aniak, Alaska airport, May 28, 2020. Photo by David Mattson.

Some of the rescuers at the Alaska Department of Forestry plane crash were teenagers

All four victims had serious but not life-threatening injuries

Aero Commander Alaska Department of Forestry
An example of an aircraft similar to the Aero Commander that crashed May 28 near Aniak, Alaska. Photo by Fred Seggie.

The four Alaska Department of Forestry (DOF) employees that were in the aircraft that crashed near Aniak, Alaska May 28 were transported to medical facilities in Anchorage, about 320 miles east of Aniak. In a May 29 update the DOF said their injuries were serious but not life-threatening. The plane was transporting emergency firefighters from two western Alaska villages to Soldotna to support initial attack wildfire responses for the Kenai/Kodiak Area Forestry station.

(Other articles about this incident were posted on April 28 and April 30.)

Shortly after takeoff the twin-engine Aero Commander 500 Shrike crashed into a water-filled gravel pit about 2.5 miles west of the northwest end of the runway.

Among the first at the scene were three teenagers (who were later joined by a fourth), ranging in age from 13 to approximately 19, that were driving past the area and saw the aircraft in the water, but did not see or hear it crash.

As they drove closer and parked they saw two people exiting the aircraft.

Aniak aircraft Crash
The wreckage of an Alaska Division of Forestry aircraft that crashed on takeoff at the Aniak, Alaska airport, May 28, 2020. Photo by David Mattson.

Three of the four teens waded into the water that Dylan Nicholson, 13, told us over the phone was chest-high on his five-foot tall body. The water was shallow enough that the plane was resting on the bottom of the pond. While standing in the water that Dylan said was “very cold”, they worked to remove the remaining two people from the damaged plane. They could not get the door open at first, so they broke out a window to help extricate the last two individuals; eventually they were able to force the door open. The teens called emergency services for help and others arrived to assist. Some of the rescuers were in the water for about half an hour, according to one report.

At least one of the patients was taken to a clinic in the teen’s truck. Others that were more seriously injured were moved to the shore in a boat and then transported by ambulance to the clinic. Later they were all flown to Anchorage.

Dylan and his mom Mary Turner said the other three teens that were among the first to arrive at the scene were Trevor Morgan, Arthur Simeon, and Mason Dallnann. Others (and we are probably missing some) included Skye Morgan, Dakota Phillips, and Billy Turner (their ages unknown).

The rescuers and their families sent us these photos:

Alaska Department of Forestry plane crash rescuers
Dylan Nicholson
Alaska Department of Forestry plane crash rescuers
Dakota Phillips and Billy Turner
Alaska Department of Forestry plane crash rescuers
Arthur Simeon and Trevor Morgan stand in front of the truck that transported at least one of the injured persons.

Congratulations to these young people and the others that helped rescue the four victims of the crash. And we hope the four that were injured recover quickly.

Plane carrying firefighters crashes in Alaska

All four on board survive

Aniak aircraft Crash
The wreckage of an Alaska Division of Forestry aircraft that crashed on takeoff at the Aniak, Alaska airport, May 28, 2020. Photo by David Mattson.

The Alaska Division of Forestry reported that four of their employees survived a plane crash near the western Alaska village of Aniak today, May 28 at approximately 4 p.m.

(Click here to see an update on this incident, posted May 29, 2020, and here to see another posted May 30, 2020)

The DOF said the plane, owned by the DOF, crashed into the Kuskokwim River on takeoff. There were four people on board, including the pilot, and all four individuals suffered injuries. The seriousness of the injuries is unknown at this time.

Aniak aircraft Crash
The wreckage of an Alaska Division of Forestry aircraft that crashed on takeoff at the Aniak, Alaska airport, May 28, 2020. Photo by David Mattson.

Alaska State Troopers and local Emergency Services personnel responded to the crash. The National Transportation Safety Board and Federal Aviation Administration have been notified.

The plane, an Aero Commander 500 Shrike, was transporting emergency firefighters from two western Alaska villages to Soldotna to support initial attack wildfire responses for the Kenai/Kodiak Area Forestry station.

David Mattson, who runs a shop near the runway, took these photos. He said the water at the site was shallow enough that personnel waded in and rescued the four individuals. He said the aircraft crashed into a gravel pit pond near the river about 2.5 miles west of the northwest end of the runway, rather than in the river as reported by the DOF. Another resident of Aniak confirmed the crash was in the gravel pit.

Aniak Airport
Aniak, Alaska Airport. Google Earth.

Record number of smokejumpers on roster in Alaska

Alaska smokejumpers
North Cascade Smokejumper Nicolas Glatt from Washington state packs a parachute at the Alaska Smokejumper Base at Fort Wainwright, Alaska, on July 20, 2019.

Story and photos by Geoff Liesik, Alaska Fire Service, July 21, 2019

A record that stood for nearly 30 years fell this past week when the roster at the Alaska Smokejumper Base at Fort Wainwright was filled with the names of 206 jumpers at the same time.

That’s more than half of the roughly 400 smokejumpers on rosters nationwide this year. The previous record in Alaska was 202 jumpers on the roster at once. It was set during the 1990 fire season, according to Alaska Smokejumper Chief Bill Cramer.

Alaska has 63 smokejumpers and has added up 143 jumpers at one time from bases in the Lower 48 to respond to fires that continue to pop up across the state.
“We were outnumbered, but never outfought,” Cramer said.

Shane Orser with the Redmond Smokejumpers from Oregon said he’s been to Alaska at least six times in his 12 years as a jumper. The camaraderie at the base makes assignments to Alaska fun, he said. “All the guys are pretty welcoming up here,” Orser said.

Alaska smokejumpers
Redmond Smokejumper Shane Orser from Oregon packs a parachute at the Alaska Smokejumper Base at Fort Wainwright, Alaska, on July 20, 2019.

The Alaska Smokejumper Base’s 10-year average for jumps between April and September is 495. As of July 20, the base had notched 829 jumps during 123 jump missions. It had also delivered more than 500,000 pounds of para-cargo as of July 20, Cramer said. The 10-year average for para-cargo delivery between April and September is 313,000 pounds.

For speed, payload and range, Cramer said it’s impossible to beat smokejumpers as a firefighting resource. “We travel faster, carry more and go farther than anyone else,” he said.

The BLM smokejumper program started in 1959 with the first fire jump happening near Flat, Alaska, on June 3. The Alaska Smokejumpers celebrated their 60th anniversary on June 14, 2019.

Alaska smokejumpers
Boise Smokejumper Kevin Norton packs a cargo chute at the Alaska Smokejumper Base in Fort Wainwright, Alaska, on July 20, 2019.

Colorado’s PC-12 mobilized to Alaska

The crew will provide intelligence on emerging and existing large fires in central Alaska

PC-12 Colorado aircraft MMA
File photo of one of Colorado’s two Pilatus PC-12 “Multi-mission Aircraft” at Sacramento McClellan Airport March 23, 2016. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

One of Colorado’s two Multi-mission Pilatus PC-12 aircraft is being dispatched to Alaska to assist with the wildfires burning in the state. The other will remain in Colorado and continue supporting fires and other incidents there.

The PC-12 will depart Centennial today, July 2, to be based out of Fairbanks, Alaska. The crew consists of two sensor operators, a pilot, and a mechanic. The team will support initial attack firefighters and provide intelligence on emerging and existing large fires in central Alaska.

Meanwhile the other PC-12 in Colorado is on fire detection missions today in Jefferson County, Douglas County, and the Arapaho-Roosevelt National Forest.

PC-12 Colorado aircraft MMA
Guy Jones describes the intelligence console on Colorado’s PC-12 Multi-Mission Aircraft, at Sacramento McClellan Airport, March 23, 2016.

NPS Regional Aviation Manager and Safety Manager killed in Alaska plane crash

The two men died May 27 in the accident near Whitehorse International Airport

(From the National Park Service, May 29, 2019)

The National Park Service (NPS) is mourning the loss of two of its Alaska-based employees following an airplane crash in Whitehorse, Canada on Monday evening.

The two men, Jeff Babcock and Charles Eric Benson, were on a personal trip to ferry a privately-owned airplane from the Lower 48 to Anchorage, Alaska, when the plane went down shortly after take-off from Whitehorse International Airport.

According to Canadian officials and witnesses the airplane crashed at about 5:30 p.m. Monday shortly after takeoff into a forested area south of the airport. A column of smoke was seen rising from the area and emergency personnel from Whitehorse Fire Department, the Whitehorse RCMP and airport firefighters responded immediately to the scene.

Jeff Babcock served as the NPS Alaska Region Aviation Manager and Charles Eric Benson was the NPS Alaska Region Safety Manager. “Jeff and Eric were two of our very best and the National Park Service and Alaska Region have suffered a terrible loss,” said Bert Frost, NPS Alaska Regional Director. “Our thoughts and prayers are with the families of Jeff and Eric and we are heartbroken,” said Frost.

Both men were accomplished professionals, as well as skilled airmen. Prior to working for the National Park Service:

Jeff Babcock had a distinguished 23-year career as a Sergeant, Lieutenant, and Captain in the Alaska State Troopers where he served as a Commercial Pilot, Aircraft and Vessel Section Supervisor, Use of Force Instructor, Accident Reconstructionist, Undercover Investigator, Internal Investigator, Tactical Dive Master, Firearms Instructor, and Certified Flight Instructor. After retiring from the Alaska State Troopers, and before coming to work with the National Park Service, Jeff flew for 7 years as a pilot for K-2 Aviation. He enjoyed flying guests around Mt. Denali and sharing with them his favorite parts of Alaska.

Eric Benson served for 25 years in both the U.S. Air Force and in the U.S. Army in a variety of assignments. From 1993-1994 he attended and graduated from the Initial Entry Rotary Wing Qualification and the Aviation Officer Basic Courses at Fort Rucker Alabama. He then served as a UH-60 Army Aviator, Platoon Leader, Company Executive Officer, Brigade Aviation Element, and an Aviation Maintenance Company Commander. Eric’s active duty career culminated in December of 2007, with the 10th Mountain Division while serving as a Battalion Executive Officer for the General Support Aviation Battalion at Fort Drum, New York. He joined the National Park Service after retiring from the U.S. Army.

Jeff Babcock and Eric Benson were long-time residents of Alaska and are well-known throughout the state. Services for Jeff Babcock will be held on Saturday, June 1, 2019 at The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, The Colony Chapel, 9475 East Silver Springs Circle, Palmer, Alaska at 11:00 a.m. Everyone is welcome to attend. Private services are pending for Eric Benson.

Jeff Babcock killed plane crash Alaska
Jeff Babcock. NPS photo.
Eric Benson killed plane crash Alaska
Eric Benson. Photo courtesy of the Benson family.

NPS aircraft crashes in Alaska — pilot rescued

Posted on Categories Fixed wingTags ,

A Cessna 185 operated by the National Park Service crashed north of Nome, Alaska April 15 in a remote area within the Bering Land Bridge National Preserve on the Seward Peninsula. The Alaska Rescue Coordination Center received an emergency locator transmitter signal from the aircraft at about 9 a.m.

The Alaska Region Communications Center based in Denali National Park was monitoring the mission and when the pilot did not check in as scheduled, was able to use its automated flight following technology to relay accurate identification of the pilot as well as the exact location of the airplane to the Alaska Rescue Coordination Center.

The pilot, the sole occupant on the mission from Kotdzebue to Nome, was able to communicate with an overhead aircraft and reported that he had minor injuries. A U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service pilot from Nome attempted to overfly the area later in the morning, but was turned back due to poor weather conditions.

File photo. An Air Force HH-60G Pave Hawk prepares to demonstrate in-flight refueling from an HC-130J Super Hercules during the joint forces demonstration at the Arctic Thunder Open House, July 1, 2018 at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Valerie Halbert)

An HH-60 Pavehawk helicopter and a C-130 refueling tanker responded from Joint-Base Elmendorf-Richardson with pararescuemen but initially were unable to access the area due to weather — strong winds and blowing snow.

A ground-based Search and Rescue team in Shishmaref could not mobilize because of white-out conditions.

Later in the day the Pavehawk was able to land at the site. The crew extricated the pilot and flew him to Elmendorf and then to Providence Hospital in Anchorage, where he was treated and released.

According to Alaska Air National Guard Senior Master Sgt. Evan Budd, the downed pilot was located with adequate food and survival gear to wait out the storm despite his injuries.