The SEAT that crashed Sept. 22 in Idaho was first registered two months ago

Ricky Fulton
Ricky Fulton

The Single Engine Air Tanker that crashed in Idaho September 22 was manufactured this year and was registered for the first time July 10, 2020. The aircraft was an Air Tractor 802A, N836MM, SN 802A-0836, owned by Aero S.E.A.T. Inc. of Sterling, Colorado. It was working on a call when needed contract with the Department of the Interior.

The pilot, Ricky Fulton, died in the accident.

The aircraft took off from Ontario, just across the Oregon border, at 6:07 p.m. MDT and was over the fire southeast of Emmett, Idaho 30 minutes later, according to FlightRadar24. It circled the fire about four times before it could no longer be detected.

SEAT flight from Ontario, ID to Schill Fire. N836MM
SEAT flight from Ontario, ID to Schill Fire. N836MM.

The family of Mr. Fulton told KWTV – NEWS 9 there was a malfunction related to the crash:

“The preliminary finding from the FAA is saying that the dump gate malfunctioned and didn’t open to dump the fire retardant, so he wasn’t able to pull up over the ridge,” family said.

It will be many months, at least, before an official report on the cause of the crash is released by the National Transportation Safety Board, so that information reportedly from the FAA should be considered preliminary at best.

NTSB SEAT crash

The Air Tractor 802A can hold up to 820 gallons of fire retardant weighing approximately 7,380 pounds. If any air tanker pilot is depending on the release of retardant to make it possible to clear terrain while exiting the drop area, a malfunction preventing that release would affect the aircraft’s ability to climb, possibly resulting in impact with terrain.

Our sincere condolences go out to the pilot’s family, friends, and co-workers.

Pilot killed in Idaho air tanker crash

Sunset Idaho
BLM

Updated September 23, 2020  |  3:33 p.m. MDT

The Bureau of Land Management has provided more information about the crash of a single engine air tanker:

“On Tuesday, Sept. 22, 2020, at approximately 7 p.m. MDT, a Single Engine Air Tanker with one pilot on board was involved in a fatal accident during initial attack operations on the Schill Fire, located approximately 2 miles southeast of Emmett.

“The pilot, Ricky Fulton, perished. The aircraft, T-857, was owned by Aero S.E.A.T. Incorporated and was on an on-call contract with BLM Fire and Aviation at the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise. Firefighters on the scene rendered medical aid to the pilot and called for Life Flight, but the pilot did not survive his injuries.

“The 30-acre Schill Fire started at approximately 4:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 22 in grass and brush in steep terrain. It was contained at approximately 10 p.m. on Tuesday. The cause of the Schill Fire is under investigation.”


Originally published September 23, 2020  |  8:58 a.m. MDT

The Bureau of Land Management announced that the pilot of a single engine air tanker (SEAT) was killed Tuesday evening September 22 while working on a wildfire near Emmett, Idaho. The agency said more information will be released following family notifications.

KTVB reported the accident occurred near Pearl Road about two miles southeast of Emmett. The fire started around 4:30 p.m. and grew to 25 acres as two SEATs and one helicopter assisted firefighters on the ground. According to the Gem County Sheriff’s Office, the air tanker was dropping retardant when it went down.

This is the sixth firefighting pilot and the third SEAT pilot to be killed in the United States this year. In addition, three members of the crew of a C-130 from the U.S. died when their air tanker crashed January 23, 2020 while fighting a bushfire in New South Wales, Australia.

Our sincere condolences go out to the pilot’s family, friends, and co-workers.

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Steve, and Tom.

Rappeller training in Idaho modified for COVID-19

Rappel training in Salmon ID
Rappel training in Salmon, ID. USFS photo.

Courtesy of the U.S. Forest Service

CURRENT HEALTH GUIDELINES TO BE IMPLEMENTED AT FIREFIGHTER ACADEMIES

As the fire season approaches, annual firefighter and rappel training conducted in May and June on the Salmon-Challis National Forest in central Idaho continues this year, but with modifications for COVID-19.

“We are taking steps to minimize all risk of exposure in order to keep our wildland firefighters and our communities safe,” said Salmon-Challis National Forest Supervisor Chuck Mark.  “Rappellers provide a vital service as wildland firefighters trained and prepared to operate in aerial operations, and as aerially delivered firefighters.”

Specific mitigation measures include reducing the number of rappellers in training, screening all participants for COVID-19 prior to their travel, closely following current Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) health guidelines and social distancing practices, and aligning with the State of Idaho’s mitigations measures for each stage of the plan.

Training events are as follows:

  • Week of May 19: Twenty-three veteran rappellers from six of the twelve Rappel bases around the nation, along with fifteen additional support staff and three helicopters with flight crews training in Salmon.  The training will take place at the Salmon Air Base and Sal Mountain.
  • Week of May 21: Salmon Air Base will be hosting Spotter Emersion training with twenty-three personnel participating in training which will better prepare the trainees for becoming a qualified rappel spotter to deploy rappellers and cargo safely.
  • May 27 through June 7 or until complete: Thirty-nine rookie rappellers, along with fifteen support staff and three helicopters and flight crews training at the Salmon Air Base and Haynes Creek.

The Salmon-Challis National Forest hosts new firefighters from across the country every year for this intensive, performance-based training.  The purpose is to train rappellers and spotters in accordance with the National Rappel Operations Guide; to strengthen leadership, teamwork, and communications within the rappel community, and to produce quality aerial delivered firefighters for use in fire and aviation operations.

The USForest Service National Helicopter Rappel Program’s primary mission is initial attack.  Rappel crews may be utilized for large fire support, all hazard incident operations, and resource management objectives.

How 20 smokejumpers were rescued by a 2-passenger helicopter

Higgins Ridge Fire, 1961

Bell 47 helicopter Forest Service
Bell 47 helicopter. Forest Service photo.

Twelve years after 13 smokejumpers were killed on the Mann Gulch Fire 13 miles north-northwest of Helena, Montana, 20 jumpers were entrapped on a fire in northern Idaho 83 miles southwest of Missoula, Montana.

It happened August 4, 1961 on the Higgins Ridge Fire in the Nez Perce National Forest after an eight-man crew from Grangeville, Idaho had jumped in the area, followed by 12 men from the Missoula jumper base, the last arriving at 1 p.m. The fire behavior on the two-acre fire was fairly benign until a passing cold front brought a sudden increase in the wind at 4:15 p.m. which resulted in the fire spreading rapidly. The 20 men took refuge in a previously burned area. As the wind increased to 50 mph the supervisors of the two squads, Dave Perry and Fred “Fritz” Wolfrum, instructed the firefighters to remain calm and to clear an area for themselves in the ashes.

Lightning was bursting from the pyrocumulus cloud over the fire as the men in their newly issued orange fire shirts covered their heads with their arms when the fire burned around them. They helped each other swat out the flames on their clothes during the ember shower.

They did not hear it because of the roar of the fire, but they looked up and saw the red skids of a helicopter. It was a Bell 47B-3 that had seating for three people abreast, with the pilot in the middle.

Below is an excerpt from the April, 1994 edition of “The Static Line” published by the National Smokejumper Association:

…The pilot was Rod Snider of the Johnson Flying Service and he had spotted the men and their orange [fire shirts].

Fritz and Snider quickly organized an evacuation plan. Snider had to drop down vertically and take off the same way because of old snags surrounding the jumpers [a maneuver that requires more power than departing from a ridge]. On the first few trips Rod took out two jumpers on each run, having them ride in the cabin. Then, with the helicopter getting hotter, Rod told them he would take four out on each trip. Two rode in the cabin and two hung on to the [cargo trays]. Rod was able to ferry all 20 jumpers to the Freeman Ridge fire camp. Fritz and Tom were among those on the last trip out.

Some of the jumpers were treated at St. Patricks’s Hospital for smoke-burned eyes. Within several days most of the jumpers who had been on the Higgins Ridge Fire were out jumping on more fires.

Rod Snider and James Van Vleck Nat Museum FS History
L to R: Helicopter pilot Rod Snider with James Van Vleck. Photo by the National Museum of Forest Service History, June, 2019.

In June, 2019 a reunion was held in Missoula for the firefighters that were involved in the Higgins Ridge Fire. Eleven of the jumpers gave oral interviews and participated in a panel discussion at the National Museum of Forest Service History (video of the panel). Mr. Snider made the trip and gave his oral history, but unfortunately had to return home the night before the panel discussion due to a family emergency.

Below are excerpts from an article in The Missoulian, August 2, 2019:

“It was hard to find them,” said Snider, 89, a quiet man who received awards for his heroism but shuns the obvious mantle of hero.

“The wind was really cooking in there and you couldn’t see the heliport all the time to get down. I had to come in high and drop down into it when I could see a little break,” Snider said in an oral history interview before he left town.

What made you risk your life to do it? an interviewer in Missoula asked.

“Oh, it had to be done. It had to be done,” Snider replied. “I don’t know. You just can’t leave guys down in the position that they were in.”

His helicopter, a Bell 47G-3 that Snider christened “Red Legs” for its painted landing skids and support legs, was one of the first with a supercharger. But the overload was nonetheless hard on it, he said.

“I felt a little uneasy, because I knew I’d over-boosted everything, But when they gave an inspection later on they couldn’t find anything wrong with it,” Snider said.

The following year Snider received the Pilot of the Year Award from the Helicopter Association of America in Dallas and the Carnegie Medal for Heroism.

In 1976, the nation’s bicentennial year, Tom Kovalicky, 84, of Grangeville and Stanley, Idaho, successfully nominated Snider for the North American Forest Fire Medal, which was being revived for the first time since 1956. Snider and his wife were flown to New Orleans for the presentation that October. And in 2002 he was inducted into the Museum of Mountain Flying Hall of Fame.

An article about the fire dated February 21, 2003 at the National Smokejumper Association’s website was written by a firefighter who was on the Higgins Ridge Fire a year before he became a smokejumper.

Higgins Ridge Fire
by Gary Shaw

The year was 1961 when cumulus clouds built up every afternoon promising rain, but delivering isolated dry lightning storms. This was the year before I became a smokejumper. It was my second year to work on the Moose Creek District of the Nezperce National Forest. The preceding summer I had spent as a lookout fireman on top of Bailey Mountain. This year I had been working trail crew for a couple of months until the sky erupted at the end of July and left fires all over the district.

My trail partner (Ron) and I had been cutting a trail from the Selway River to Big Rock Mountain and were currently holed up in a cabin there when a helicopter picked us up to transport us to a small fire on Higgins Ridge. We were to meet a crew walking in from Elbow Bend on East Moose Creek. We saw smokejumpers parachute into the fire area on our way to the fire. We landed on the uphill side of the fire, grabbed our shovels and pulaskis and started for the fire. We could see the jumpers’ orange shirts through the smoke.

Before we could get to the fire a large cumulous cloud covered the sun and the wind picked up to 25 or 30 m.p.h. The fire blew up in our faces, and we were forced to retreat back into a large rockslide.

The jumpers weren’t so lucky. They were trapped in the middle of it with no escape route. They dug in, buried their faces in wet bandanas in the dirt, and tried to find air to breath as the fire roared from a manageable 2 acres to a 1280 acre holocaust. It was late evening, and the fire was beautiful to watch. It was crowning, and trees several hundred feet ahead of the fire would begin to tremble and then burst into flame like a fireworks display.

The fire was so hot that canteens of water near the jumpers started exploding. When things looked at their bleakest, the cavalry arrived in the form of Rod Snider(NCSB-51) in a Bell 47G-3B helicopter from Johnson’s Flying Service in Missoula. It was getting dark when he flew into the middle of the fire and started bringing Jumpers out four at a time, which is two more than the maximum the copter was supposed to carry. He had two guys on the seat and two more on the runners. He made five trips into the fire and rescued twenty jumpers. The manifold pressure on the copter engine was 200% above maximum, and when the engine was torn down later, two pistons fell apart. I heard that “Crash” received 20 cases of beer the next week.

My trail partner and I stayed on the fire through mop-up. The other crew arrived without tools, which were to be dropped in by air. Unfortunately, communications left something to be desired. We kept requesting tools and instead received three separate drops of sleeping bags. Each person had a half dozen sleeping bags, but Ron and I were the only ones who had a shovel and pulaski to work on the fire. So we did.

When the tools finally arrived and we got the fire under control, I walked down to the area where the jumpers had been trapped. I found exploded water cans, unexploded gasoline cans (go figure), and a personal gear bag with all their cameras melted together. I could see Minolta, Canon, and Nikon logos on the fused metal and glass. I sent the lot back to Missoula. The fire had been so hot that there were no snags, just pointed stumps and ashes over a foot deep.

I remember two of the rescued jumpers departed the chopper and immediately asked for a cigarette. Now that’s a habit!

I’ve always wondered what that fire looked like from the other side. If anyone reads this that remembers, let me know.

The group that organized the oral history and panel about the Higgins Ridge Fire was organized by the National Museum of Forest Service History. Wildfire Today first wrote about the museum in 2009 five years after they began their effort to raise $10.6 million to build a national museum to commemorate the 100+ year history of the U. S. Forest Service. Their vision began in 1994 when they obtained 36 acres west of the Missoula airport where they hope to build a 30,000 square-foot building.

National Museum of Forest Service History
An architect’s concept of the future National Museum of Forest Service History.

The museum’s fund drive received a significant boost this month when it received a $2 million contribution from the estate of Bill Cannon, a Forest Service retiree.

From the Ravalli Republic:

…Cannon spent most of his Forest Service years in California and Oregon, with an interlude in Hawaii where he was assigned to state and private forestry work. He finished his career in Washington, D.C., where he worked on program planning for the Forest Service’s state and private programs.

Meanwhile, according to a press release announcing his gift, he used his avocation of studying financial markets to become an adept investor.

Cannon became impressed with the National Museum of Forest Service History on a field trip to the site while in Missoula for the 2000 U.S. Forest Service retiree reunion.

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

Air tankers at Coeur d’Alene in 1973

Coeur d'Alene Idaho air tankers 1973
A B-17 and A-26 at Coeur d’Alene in 1973. Screenshot from Airailimages video below.

Fred Johnson sent us a notice about the newest Airailimages Video Magazine, which includes a photo story about air tankers at Coeur d’Alene, Idaho in the summer of 1973.

A long drop by a DC-10

The Horse Butte Fire has burned 9,400 acres approximately 18 miles northwest of Aberdeen, Idaho. The lightning-caused fire has been moving actively through brush and tall grass. Firefighters are expecting to have it contained by the end of the day on Monday.

The photo below shows a DC-10 Very Large Air Tanker, Tanker 912, dropping on the fire.

Tanker 912 Horse Butte Fire Idaho
Tanker 912, a DC-10, dropping retardant on the Horse Butte Fire in Idaho. Photo by Mike Krupski. Via @GreatBasinCC

Video surfaces of engine failure on air tanker during takeoff

Coeur D’Alene, Idaho in 2018

Air Tanker 101 MD87 Rapid City
Air Tanker 101, an MD87, at Rapid City, December 12, 2017. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

On July 30, 2018 an engine on an MD87 air tanker failed while taking off at Coeur D’Alene Airport in Idaho en route to drop retardant on a wildfire. The reports at the time was that it failed after takeoff, but in this video that just came to light filmed by Harold Komm, Jr. it appears that the incident occurred during takeoff while the aircraft was approximately half or two-thirds of the way down the runway. At 0:52 in the video below, smoke or debris can be seen in the vicinity of the tail of the aircraft. Then the engine noise decreases as the takeoff continued. When it finally became airborne dust is kicked up at the end of the runway.

The flight crew deserves high praise for getting the plane into the air and then landing safely. An engine failure at that point is one of the worst times for it to happen.

(The video can also be watched at YouTube)

The aircraft was Air Tanker 101, an MD87 operated by Erickson Aero Air. Mr. Komm said that after takeoff the plane flew out to the designated retardant jettison area about seven miles northeast of the airport so it would not have to land with a full load of retardant.

Seven fires were discovered after the incident within a five-mile radius of the airport. One of the firefighters was injured while suppressing the fires.

Mr. Komm said he just recently found a report of the incident on Fire Aviation and offered to allow us to publish his video. We had to edit the audio to remove some unwanted background noise unrelated to the aircraft, but other than that and adding titles at the beginning and the end we didn’t change the video. He told us, “I had talked to Erickson Aero Air HQ in Oregon to make sure it was ok for me to distribute and the only thing was that I had to forward a copy of the video to the lead mechanic. I got some cool swag from Erickson Aero Air for being in the right place and time doing the video.”

This was not the first time that an engine on an Erickson Aero Air MD87 failed and falling debris caused problems after hitting the ground. On September 13, 2015 debris from an engine landed in a residential area of Fresno, California. One chunk of metal crashed through the rear window of a car, while other shrapnel was found in city streets.

There has been concern since at least 2014 about retardant being ingested into the engines when the MD87 is making a drop. A SAFECOM filed back then considered the possibility after engine surges or intermittent power was a problem for one aircraft after making a drop. Photos were taken of retardant stains on the fuselage caused by retardant flowing over the wing.

The first fix that Erickson Aero Air implemented was in 2014, “a new spade profile that has proved to eliminate this problem by keeping the fluid column much more vertical” the company wrote.

Then in June, 2017 they took a much more radical step. They had an external tank, or pod, fabricated and installed below the retardant tank doors, which lowered the release point by 46 inches, mitigating the problem Kevin McLoughlin, the Director of Air Tanker Operations, said at the time.

On December 12, 2017 I was given a tour of Tanker 101 by the flight crew while it was in Rapid City, and noticed there was evidence of retardant flowing over the top of the wing and flaps.

MD-87 retardant wing engine failure
Tanker 101, an MD87, with evidence of retardant stains on top of the wing and the flaps, December 12, 2017 at Rapid City Airport. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

Firefighter rescues pilot after plane crashes into top of tree

The aircraft was lodged in the top of a 60-foot tree

airplane lodged in top of tree
John Gregory’s aircraft crashed into the top of a tree on April 22 east of McCall, Idaho. Photo by Valley County Sheriff’s Office.

You know what they say about any landing you can walk away from……

That is what 79-year old John Gregory of McCall, Idaho did after his Piper Cub PA-18 crashed on top of a 60-foot white fir tree east of McCall Monday night. He had to be extracted from the plane and lowered to the ground by firefighters, but after his feet were firmly on top of snow at the base of the tree, he walked away uninjured.

Mr. Gregory had taken off at Challis and was intending to land at the McCall Airport but the plane lost power.

There are a number of facts about this story that are interesting other than the obvious… the plane somewhat intact at the top of the tree. (A piece of a prop and one wheel fell to the ground.)

The Valley County Sheriff’s Office said authorities were notified three ways about the accident at around 8:42 p.m.:

  1. A SPOT locater activation.
  2. US Air Force Rescue Command received notice of an unregistered EPIRB activation.
  3. Mr. Gregory called 911 on his cell phone, saying he had just crashed his plane and he was stuck in the trees in the air.

The Sheriff’s Office and McCall Fire and EMS responded into the snowy mountains on snowmobiles and a local resident brought Sno-Cat.  Two helicopters were dispatched, one from Two Bear Air and an air ambulance from Boise, but it was feared that the rotor wash would dislodge the plane, so it was all on the shoulders of the ground-based personnel.

It was dark so they worked with flashlights and lights from the Sno-Cat.

When I first heard about this accident, a plane and a victim stuck in the top of a tree, I thought that since it was near the McCall Smokejumper Base, a jumper was going to climb the tree and rescue the pilot, since they are trained in tree climbing to retrieve parachutes.

But, one of the McCall volunteer firefighters, Randy Acker, is an arborist and owner of Acker Tree Service. He offered to scale the tree, the Idaho Statesman reported. I checked, and Mr. Acker is not a smokejumper.

Below is an excerpt from an article in the Idaho Statesman. And keep in mind — it was well after dark.

[McCall Fire Captain Brandon] Swain said seven people on the ground watched the tree carefully as Acker climbed it, cutting limbs with a chainsaw as he ascended. He stopped cutting about 20 feet from the top.

“We were nervous,” Swain said. “The majority of the limbs at the top were helping support that plane.”

There was no way to know how hard the plane hit the tree or whether the tree was seriously compromised. But the plane didn’t budge while Acker worked to get the pilot out, Swain said.

Acker secured the plane to the tree with rope webbing. He then got the pilot into a safety harness so he could be lowered to the ground. Jordan Ockunzzi and Swain helped Gregory down through a process called belaying.

The Sheriff’s Office is not releasing the exact location of the incident, and is asking the public to avoid the area since a gust of wind could cause the aircraft to crash, again, this time to the ground.

airplane lodged in top of tree
John Gregory’s aircraft crashed into the top of a tree on April 22 east of McCall, Idaho. Photo by Valley County Sheriff’s Office.