Lead plane pilot honored for working despite losing his home in fire

David Spliethof award lead plane
Lead Plane Pilot David Spliethof (2nd from left) receives award. Left to right: Deputy Regional Forester Barnie Gyant, Spliethof,  Acting DRF Edward Hunter,  Region 5 Aviation Officer Yolanda Saldana,  Acting DRF Larry Sutton,  Region 5 Fire Director Bob Baird,  Regional Forester Randy Moore. USFS photo by Paul Wade.

A U.S. Forest Service lead plane pilot whose home was destroyed in the Carr Fire near Redding, California earlier this year continued to work each day guiding large air tankers as they made their retardant drops on the fire. On December 12 David Spliethof received a 2018 Regional Forester’s Honor Award for the work he did on the fire. The award is given to those who went above and beyond their scope of duty to perform an act of service of rare or exceptional character that reflects an uncommon degree of concern for the well-being of others.

Mr. Spliethof continued to fly as a lead plane pilot for days after he knew he lost his home and all of his family’s belongings. The Spliefthof’s had nothing but the clothes on their backs. He said in an interview that there is no place he would rather be than flying and helping others instead of feeling sorry for himself. He had his family, so he continued to fly to minimize the loss of more homes. Several air tanker pilots stated that for a while they had no idea Mr. Spliefthof lost his home because he was professional and never missed a beat.

There is a critical shortage of lead plane pilots and he had every reason to forgo his duties and focus on his personal situation. However, he chose to serve the agency and the public.

Video of MAFFS C-130 dropping on Carr Fire

MAFFS C-130 Carr fire air tanker wildfire

The California Air National Guard shot this video of one of their Modular Airborne Fire Fighting Systems (MAFFS) C-130’s dropping retardant on the Carr Fire in Northern California July 31, 2018.

If you look closely you’ll see the lead plane produce smoke to mark the beginning of the drop.