NTSB has tentatively ruled out mechanical issues as cause of T-81 crash

CAL FIRE Director Ken Pimlott
CAL FIRE Director Ken Pimlott addresses the media on October 10, 2014, concerning the status of the investigation into the crash of Tanker 81 on October 7. On the left in the white shirt is NTSB investigator Josh Cawthra. Over Director Pimlott’s right shoulder is CAL FIRE Chief Pilot Bill Payne.

In a press conference on Friday an investigator for the National Transportation Safety Board said they have tentatively ruled out mechanical issues as the primary cause of the October 7 crash of the air tanker on the Dog Rock Fire near Yosemite National Park in California.

Pilot Geoffrey “Craig” Hunt was killed when the S-2T air tanker impacted the ground while he was attempting to make his second retardant drop on the fire.

NTSB investigator Josh Cawthra said that while it is early in the investigation which will take six to eight months to complete, mechanical or fatigue issues do not appear to be factors in the crash. In addition, he said they have received no reports of turbulence in the drop area. They expect to have a preliminary report available on the NTSB website within about five days.

The investigators began by conducting an aerial recon over the crash site to become familiar with the very steep terrain and the extent of the debris field. After the fire activity had diminished, they documented it from the ground.

The team has completed the on-scene portion of the investigation but they still need to recover, reconstruct, and examine some portions of the wreckage which are scattered over an area about 1/4 mile long. There is still some active fire in the area, and they will be working with CAL FIRE and the National Park Service to remove the aircraft parts after the fire has cooled down.

The investigators will be looking at “man, machine, and the environment”, Mr. Cathra said, and:

This accident is extremely tragic. We have a community that was threatened by a wildland fire, there were evacuations being done. These pilots put their life on the line. They were out there in a very — it’s a controlled environment, but yet there is also an amount of risk. And it is something that affects everybody as a whole. We get to know these pilots as well throughout the year. Our primary mission with the NTSB is to figure out what happened, why it happened, and how we can prevent this from ever occurring again.

Director Ken Pimlott said beginning today, Friday, CAL FIRE will start transitioning their tanker pilots back into their aircraft, after having been grounded since immediately after the accident. Each of them will be evaluated, but some, he said, will require more time to deal with the tragedy than others.

He recognized and thanked the U.S. Forest Service for providing air tankers to cover the state of California while the 22 remaining S-2Ts were not available. Providing that coverage was made less complicated by the lack of wildfire activity in the rest of the United States.

In the video of the press conference below, the people you will see, in the order of  appearance, are:

  1. Daniel Berlant, CAL FIRE Information Officer
  2. Ken Pimlott, CAL FIRE Director
  3. Josh Cawthra, NTSB Investigator
  4. Bill Payne, CAL FIRE Chief Pilot, and
  5. Daniel Berlant, CAL FIRE Information Officer

FAA releases preliminary cause of S-2T crash

Geoffrey "Craig" Hunt
Geoffrey “Craig” Hunt. Image courtesy of Mr. Hunt’s family.

The Federal Aviation Administration’s web site lists the preliminary cause of the crash of Tanker 81, an S-2T, as a “wing striking a tree”. That is consistent with information we have from witnesses of the accident.

The Fresno Bee reported that Keith Halloway, a spokesman for NTSB which is the lead investigating agency, said Wednesday evening that the board may have a preliminary report next week, but determining a probable cause for the crash could take 12 to 18 months.

The pilot of the S-2T that died in the air tanker crash on October 7 was Geoffrey “Craig” Hunt, age 62, of San Jose. He was a 13-year veteran pilot with DynCorp International which has the contract to maintain and operate the 23 S-2T air tankers for CAL FIRE. Mr. Hunt was attempting to drop retardant on the Dog Rock Fire near Yosemite National Park in California when the accident occurred.

More information:

Geoffrey "Craig" Hunt
Geoffrey “Craig” Hunt. Photo courtesy of Mr. Hunt’s family.

Pilot in Yosemite crash identified

crash site
The crash site a few minutes after impact. Much of the wreckage fell down the rock face, with some of it landing on the highway below. Photo by Ken Yager.

The pilot of the S-2T that died in the air tanker crash on October 7 has been identified as Geoffrey “Craig” Hunt, age 62, of San Jose. He was a 13 year veteran pilot with DynCorp International. DynCorp has the contract to maintain and operate the 23 S-2T air tankers for CAL FIRE. Mr. Hunt was attempting to drop retardant on the Dog Rock Fire near Yosemite National Park in California when the accident occurred.

Geoffrey "Craig" Hunt.
Geoffrey “Craig” Hunt.

“We continue to mourn the tragic loss of Craig,” said Chief Ken Pimlott, CAL FIRE director. “We know wildland firefighting is an inherently dangerous job, but Craig made the ultimate sacrifice.”

“Our thoughts and prayers are with Craig’s family during this difficult time,” said Jeff Cavarra, program director for DynCorp.

Mr. Hunt’s body was watched over Tuesday night by fire and rescue personnel and was recovered Wednesday morning. A National Park Service honor guard then transferred Mr. Hunt to CAL FIRE personnel.

Immediately after the crash, CAL FIRE grounded their remaining air tankers, which is standard procedure after a serious accident.

A graphic photo of the flaming wreckage falling down the steep slope has been posted at a rock climbing forum.

The S-2T air tanker, registration number N449DF, was designated Tanker 81, one of 23 S-2Ts that are maintained and flown by DynCorp for CAL FIRE. The agency also has one spare that is used to fill in as needed when an aircraft is undergoing maintenance. CAL FIRE hires their own pilots for their 11 UH-1H Super Huey helicopters, but they are also maintained by DynCorp.

The last time a CAL FIRE air tanker crashed was in 2001, when two tankers collided while fighting a fire in Mendocino County, killing both pilots, Daniel Berlant, spokesperson for CAL FIRE said.

The agency had another plane crash in 2006, when a battalion chief and a pilot were killed in the crash of an air attack plane in Tulare County.

The S-2 first flew in 1952 and the U.S. Navy discontinued the use of them in 1976. They were used for detecting enemy ships and submarines and for dropping torpedoes. The ones currently being used by CAL FIRE were converted from piston to turbine engines between 1999 and 2005. Some media outlets are incorrectly reporting that the Tanker that crashed on Tuesday was built in 2001. That may be the date that it was converted to turbine engines and was given the new model name S-2F3 Turbo Tracker. They are now commonly referred to as S-2T, with the “T” standing for turbine engine.

More information about the crash and the Dog Rock Fire is at Wildfire Today.

Our sincere condolences go out to the family, friends, and coworkers of Mr. Hunt.

S-2T crashes while fighting Yosemite fire

CAL FIRE has announced that an S-2T air tanker has crashed while fighting the Dog Rock Fire in Yosemite National Park in California. There is no word yet about the condition of the pilot. Emergency personnel are hiking to the crash site.

More information is at Wildfire Today.

Report released on CL-415 accident in Newfoundland and Labrador

T-286 partially submerged

The Transportation Safety Board of Canada (TSB) has released an investigation report on the CL-415 water-scooping air tanker that was involved in an accident on Moosehead Lake in Newfoundland and Labrador July 3, 2013, which we first covered HERE. Fortunately the two pilots were not injured and climbed out of the partially submerged aircraft, used a cell phone to call their headquarters, and waited on the wing for 30 minutes until they were rescued.

The previous day the flight crew had completed 53 water-drop flights at a fire northeast of Wabush, Newfoundland and Labrador, with each flight taking about 3 minutes. The accident occurred on the first flight of the next day while they were working on a wildfire, scooping water from Moosehead Lake in Newfoundland and Labrador.

The scooping system on their CL-415 had a feature that when activated by an Auto/Manual switch would automatically retract the water-scooping probes that while skimming the surface of a lake inject water into the tank. The system, when on Auto, allows a predetermined amount of water into the tank. The water drop control panel computer uses the aircraft’s zero-fuel weight and the weight of the onboard fuel and chemical foam to calculate the maximum amount of water that can be scooped without exceeding the aircraft’s maximum take-off weight of 47,000 pounds.

The Auto/Manual switch was in the Manual position on the first flight that day and the probes did not retract while scooping, resulting in a 3,000-pound overweight condition. The probes being down for an extended period of time combined with the too-heavy aircraft meant that it was on the lake surface for a much longer distance than on the previous days flights, 3,490 feet versus 1,200 feet after touchdown. As land approached, the pilot turned the aircraft to use more of the lake surface. The initiation of the left turn resulted in the left float contacting the water while the hull became airborne. This created a downward force on the left float, which acted as a pivot point around which the aircraft rotated, causing the hull to impact the water.

The forward force of 1.1 g was not sufficient to activate the emergency locator transmitter which requires 2.0 g, and it was not manually activated by the flight crew. One of the pilots was able to escape with a life vest, but the other vest floated away out of reach. Neither could gain access to the life raft located in the rear of the fuselage. The pilot contacted company personnel by cellular telephone and advised them of the situation. Within about 30 minutes, Department of Natural Resources employees arrived by boat and transported the flight crew to shore.

The aircraft floated partially submerged for at least four days, eventually settling on the lake bottom about 225 feet from the southern shore of the lake. There was substantial damage to the aircraft. The report described it as “destroyed”.

On August 14, 2014 another water-scooping air tanker was involved in an accident in Canada. A single-engine Air Tractor 802 Fireboss crashed and and sank while scooping water on Chantslar Lake in British Columbia, Canada about 30 kilometers west of Puntzi Mountain.

Below are some excerpts from the report on last year’s CL-415 accident:

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Because the PROBES AUTO/MANUAL switch locks in the MANUAL position, an inadvertent movement of the switch from the MANUAL selection would be unlikely. However, the switch can be easily moved from the AUTO to MANUAL selection by simply pulling the centre pedestal cover rearward during removal.

At the end of the previous day, the aircraft was shut down and the switch was left in the AUTO position. The centre pedestal cover was installed and remained there until the following day, when it was removed by the Pilot Flying (PF). Neither of the pilots purposely repositioned the switch during the occurrence flight. Therefore, it is likely that the PROBES AUTO/MANUAL switch was inadvertently moved from the AUTO to MANUAL position when the centre pedestal cover was removed.

An inadvertent movement from the AUTO to the MANUAL selection can lead to the aircraft being in an overweight situation if the flight crew does not monitor the water quantity. When a flight crew is operating with the switch in the AUTO selection, there is an expectation that the probes will always automatically retract at the predetermined water quantity, as was the case on the 53 flights of the previous day. When the flight crew expects the system to work properly, it is likely that less priority is given to the importance of monitoring the water quantity.

The aircraft flight manual (AFM) instructs flight crews to monitor the water quantity even when the PROBES AUTO/MANUAL switch is in the AUTO selection. At the time of the occurrence, the flight crew was occupied during the scooping run with other flight activities, and did not notice that the water quantity exceeded the predetermined limit until after the tanks had filled to capacity. This situation resulted in the aircraft being over the maximum take-off weight.

2.7 Firefighting training

Aerial firefighting is a specialized operation that not only requires the flight crew to be competent in their aircraft operation skills but also to be familiar with the specialized techniques associated with using the aircraft to fight fires. This familiarity allows crews to better adapt to difficult flying situations under intense workload. The Newfoundland and Labrador Government Air Services (NGAS)  did not provide any specific ground training syllabus for aerial firefighting.

 

Thanks and a hat tip go out to Chris.

MAFFS air tanker experiences a hard landing

MAFFS 3 hard landing
The MAFFS 3 air tanker experienced a hard landing at Hill Air Force Base on August 17. There were no injuries. Photo supplied by the Air Force, originally from Fox 13.

One of the military Modular Airborne FireFighting System (MAFFS) C-130 air tankers experienced a hard landing Sunday. The crew detected a potential malfunction with the nose landing gear and executed an emergency landing at Hill Air Force Base near Ogden, Utah. Upon landing at 2:53 MDT, there was a small fire and the aircraft, designated as MAFFS 3, sustained damage, but there were no injuries, according to the United States Northern Command.

The Fox 13 TV station in Salt Lake City reported that the air tanker was scheduled to “refuel and resupply” at Ogden when the problem was first detected.

Greg Brubaker sent us the photo below. He said he noticed the aircraft was flying in the area for over an hour and he observed that the nose gear was not visible.

MAFFS 3 nose gear problem
MAFFS 3 circling in the Ogden area before it landed with a nose gear problem. Photo by Greg Brubaker.

In the photo, the doors that cover the nose gear appear to be partially, but not fully open. Click on the photo to see a larger version.

On July 19, two MAFFS C-130s, MAFFS 1 and 3, from the 153rd Airlift Wing of the Wyoming Air National Guard in Cheyenne were activated to assist with the firefighting effort and have been deployed ever since, working out of Boise and other bases while rotating fresh crews in and out.

There have been three other hard landing incidents involving privately owned contract air tankers with failed landing gear or brakes since 2010. No injuries were reported in these accidents:

  1. 2010, June 26: Neptune’s Tanker 44, a P2V, experienced a hydraulic failure upon landing, had no brakes, and went off the runway at Rocky Mountain Metropolitan Airport (JeffCo) in Colorado.
  2. 2012, June 3: One of the main landing gears did not lower and lock on Minden’s Tanker 55, a P2V. The aircraft landed at Minden, Nevada and slid off the runway.
  3. 2014, June 15: Minden’s Tanker 48, a P2V, experienced a hydraulic failure, resulting in the nose gear collapsing while it landed at Fresno, California.

On July 1, 2012 a MAFFS C-130 air tanker, MAFFS #7 operated by the North Carolina National Guard crashed. The accident occurred July 1, 2012 as the aircraft was attempting to drop retardant on the White Draw Fire near Edgemont, South Dakota. There were four fatalities.

MAFFS at Helena
File photo of MAFFS 1 and 3 at Helena Regional Airport August 3, 2014. Photo by Jeff Wadekamper.

NTSB report on Tanker 48’s collapsed nose gear

Tanker 48 lands collapsed nose gear Fresno
Tanker 48 lands on collapsed nose gear at Fresno.

The National Transportation Safety Board has released preliminary information about the June 15 accident in which Minden’s Tanker 48, a P2V, experienced a hydraulic failure, resulting in the nose gear collapsing while it landed at Fresno, California.

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“NTSB Identification: WPR14TA248
14 CFR Public Use
Accident occurred Sunday, June 15, 2014 in Fresno, CA
Aircraft: LOCKHEED SP 2H, registration: N4692A
Injuries: 2 Uninjured.

This is preliminary information, subject to change, and may contain errors. Any errors in this report will be corrected when the final report has been completed. NTSB investigators may not have traveled in support of this investigation and used data provided by various sources to prepare this public aircraft accident report.

On June 15, 2014, about 2044 Pacific daylight time, a Lockheed SP-2H, N4692A, was substantially damaged when the nose wheel landing gear collapsed during landing roll at the Fresno Yosemite International Airport (FAT), Fresno, California. The airplane was registered to Minden Air Corporation, Minden, Nevada, and operated as Tanker 48 by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), Forestry Service, as a public use flight. The airline transport pilot (ATP) rated captain and the ATP rated first officer were not injured. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed and a company flight plan was filed for the local fire fighting flight. The flight originated from Porterville Municipal Airport (PTV), Porterville, California, at 1934.

The captain reported that following an uneventful aerial drop, the flight was returning to PTV. During the descent check, he noticed that the hydraulic pressure indicated 0 and that the first officer subsequently verified that the sight gauge for the main hydraulic fluid reservoir was empty. The first officer opened the jet engine doors successfully as the captain selected gear down with no response. The captain notified base personnel at PTV of the situation and informed them that they would be orbiting to the east of the airport to troubleshoot. The captain and first officer performed the emergency checklist, and extended the nose wheel landing gear successfully. The captain stated that the first officer then installed the pin to the nose wheel landing gear as part of the emergency checklist.

The flight diverted to FAT due to a longer runway and emergency resources as both pilots briefed the no-flap landing procedure, airspeeds, and approach profile. As the flight continued toward FAT, the flight crew informed Fresno Approach Control of the hydraulic system failure and continued to perform the emergency gear extension checklist. The first officer extended the main landing gear using the emergency gear release, which resulted in three down and locked landing gear indications in the cockpit. As the flight neared FAT, the first officer added two gallons of hydraulic fluid to the main hydraulic reservoir while the captain attempted to extend the flaps unsuccessfully. Subsequently, the flight landed on runway 26R. During the landing roll, the nose wheel landing gear collapsed and the airplane came to rest nose low.

Examination of the airplane by representatives from the Forest Service revealed that the forward portion of the fuselage was structurally damaged. The airplane was recovered to a secure location for further examination.”

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Below is photo of Tanker 48 after landing on all three wheels at Rapid City, July 21, 2012, while working the Myrtle Fire.

Tanker 48 at Rapid City. Photo by Bill Gabbert.
Tanker 48 at Rapid City. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

An air attack plane crashed May 17 in Arizona

We just found out that an air attack plane under contract to the Department of the Interior crashed May 17 at Fort Huachuca, Arizona. The Rockwell Aero Commander 500S impacted the ground shortly after takeoff.

The aircraft was on an orientation flight for a new pilot on the air attack contract. It was operated by Ponderosa Aviation and was taking off from Sierra Vista Municipal Airport – Libby Army Airfield, in Arizona.

Below is an excerpt from the NTSB preliminary report:

The pilot and certified flight instructor were seriously injured, and the airplane sustained substantial damage throughout. The airplane was registered to, and operated by Ponderosa Aviation Inc. under the provisions of 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91 as an orientation flight. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed, and no flight plan was filed for the local area flight.

Witnesses reported they observed the airplane takeoff normally. When it was over the departure end of the runway, they heard a distinct “pop pop” noise followed by silence. The airplane immediately made a steep left turn; as the wings started to level, it descended below rising terrain. Shortly thereafter they observed a large dust cloud.

On November 23, 2011 another Ponderosa Aviation aircraft, a Rockwell 690, crashed, killing six people including three children and Russel Hardy, a co-owner of the company. The NTSB concluded that the cause of that crash on a moonless night was “controlled flight into terrain”.

Although the airplane was technically not airworthy due to the unaccomplished inspection, the investigation did not reveal any preimpact airframe, avionics, engine, or propeller discrepancies that would have precluded normal operation. Airplane performance derived from radar tracking data did not suggest any mechanical abnormalities or problems.

Contributing to the accident were the pilot’s complacency and lack of situational awareness and his failure to use air traffic control visual flight rules flight following or minimum safe altitude warning services. Also contributing to the accident was the airplane’s lack of onboard terrain awareness and warning system equipment.

An air attack plane operated by Houston Air experienced a very hard landing at Wilcox, AZ on July 2.

Thanks and a hat tip go out to Duncan.