Pilot walks away from air tanker crash in New Brunswick

Air tractor aircraft
This aircraft is similar to the one that was involved in the crash. Photo submitted by Forest Protection Limited.

A single engine air tanker crashed August 11 while working on a wildfire near Mount Carleto in New Brunswick, Canada. The pilot, the only person on board, walked away.

From CBC News, by Jennifer Sweet

A New Brunswick pilot in his 50s is lucky to be alive after the water bomber he was flying crashed into a hillside Wednesday August 11 in remote, mountainous terrain in northern New Brunswick.

“It’s a bit of a miracle,” said Steven Hansen, managing director of Forest Protection Ltd., the Fredericton-based company contracted to help the provincial Department of Natural Resources and Energy Development fight forest fires. “It’s the best possible outcome from the worst possible scenario,” he said.

Hansen said the pilot is “very experienced” and had been flying for a few hours Wednesday afternoon dumping water and flame retardant on a wildfire.

According to the provincial government’s latest fire activity report, a fire on Old River Road, between the old Heath Steele mine and Mount Carleton, is still out of control.

The plane had just refueled and reloaded with another 800 gallons at the airport in Miramichi and was heading back to the fire when the crash happened, said Hansen.

“There was an unknown issue with the aircraft,” said Jason Hoyt, a spokesperson for DNRE, and the water tanker, identified by Forest Protection Limited as an Air Tractor AT-802F, crashed into the side of a hill at about 4 p.m. “in heavy woods approximately one kilometer from the site of the fire.”

“It’s dangerous work we do,” said Hansen. The terrain was “complex,” he said, and the fire had created turbulence.

It may not be a huge fire, he said, but it was intense.

The cause of the crash is under investigation. The national Transportation Safety Board said it has sent a team to look into it.

Forest fire fighters were the first people to get to the scene of the crash, said Hansen.

“They found the pilot climbing out of the wreckage,” said Hoyt.

The pilot was upright, walking and talking, said Hansen.

Both men said the pilot was taken to the Chaleur Regional Hospital in Bathurst to be checked over and was released Wednesday night with no major injuries.

Hansen said his company voluntarily grounded its planes following the crash, and is cooperating with the TSB’s investigation.

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