Pilots that were killed in mid-air collision of air tankers identified

Updated August 20, 2020 | 7:27 p.m. MDT

Red Canyon Fire
File photo. Air tanker 866 (N8510M) drops on the Red Canyon Fire in South Dakota July 9, 2016. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

The Sheriff’s Office of Lincoln County, Nevada has officially released the names of the two pilots that were killed in the mid-air collision of two Single Engine Air Tankers that occurred July 30, 2020 that were working on the Bishop Fire in southeast Nevada. The aircraft were on contract with the BLM.

They were identified by the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office as David Blake Haynes and Scott Thomas. When we asked Sheriff Kerry Lee why it took almost three weeks to release the names, he said that they have four ways to identify deceased individuals — dental, fingerprint, identification by the family either on scene or by photo, or DNA. Because of the condition of the victims they had to use DNA which required obtaining samples from family members then sending those to a lab with samples from the pilots.

A preliminary report released by the National Transportation Safety Board revealed that one of the two SEATs had fire retardant on the windshield. Both pilots of the aircraft, the only personnel on board, were killed while assisting firefighters on the Bishop Fire in southeast Nevada.

The investigators found that the tankers were working in tandem with one close behind the other. After the following aircraft got retardant on the windshield it made a rapid climb then suddenly turned left and collided with the other.

Both of the SEATs were operated by M&M Air Services out of Beaumont, Texas. The aircraft were made by Air Tractor, model AT-802A; N8510M (Tanker 866) and N1558W (Tanker 824).

Our sincere condolences go out to the family, friends, and co-workers of Mr. Haynes and Mr. Thomas.

Tanker 824 (N1558W)
File photo: Tanker 824 (N1558W) at Boise, July 19, 2014. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

The article was updated August 20, 2020 after receiving information from the Sheriff’s office.

Preliminary report reveals one of the SEATs involved in the July 30 mid-air collision had retardant on windshield

Two pilots were killed July 30, 2020 at the Bishop Fire in southeast Nevada

NTSB graphic mid-air crash air tanker
NTSB graphic of the last flights of N1558W (Tanker 824) and N8510M (Tanker 866).

A preliminary report released by the National Transportation Safety Board revealed that one of the two Single Engine Air Tankers (SEAT) that collided and crashed July 30, 2020 had fire retardant on the windshield. Both pilots of the aircraft, the only personnel on board, were killed while assisting firefighters on the Bishop Fire in southeast Nevada.

The investigators found that the tankers were working in tandem with one close behind the other. After the following aircraft got retardant on the windshield it made a rapid climb then suddenly turned left and collided with the other.

Both of the SEATs were operated by M&M Air Services out of Beaumont, Texas but the names of the two pilots have not been released. The aircraft were made by Air Tractor, model AT-802A; N8510M (Tanker 866) and N1558W (Tanker 824).

Below is the complete text of the preliminary NTSB report:


On July 30, 2020, about 1256 Pacific daylight time, two Air Tractor AT-802A airplanes, N8510M and N1558W, were destroyed when they were involved in an accident near Elgin, Nevada. The pilots of both airplanes were fatally injured. The airplanes were operated as public use firefighting flights.

The airplanes were functioning as single-engine airtankers (SEATs) for the Bureau of Land Management providing aerial firefighting services at the time of the accident. According to automatic dependent surveillance broadcast data (ADS-B) and witness statements, the airplanes departed Mesquite, Nevada as a flight of two about 1225 to deploy their third load of fire retardant that day. ADS-B data showed that N8510M was in lead and N1558W was in trail as they flew northeast towards a designated fire traffic area in a climb. At 1252:47, the pilot of N8510M started a descent from 7,100 ft msl accompanied by a slight right turn to the north and then he turned west about 15 seconds later. N1558W followed the movements of N8510M from about 1,500 ft behind him. About this time a lead airplane had begun to escort the flight of two SEATs to their intended drop area. At 1254:37, N8510M turned left to a southeast heading and descended from about 6,000 ft msl, with N1558W still about 1,500 ft in trail. N1558W began a turn to the southeast a few seconds later and descended from 6,100 ft msl, but when they leveled out, N1558W was about 500 ft in trail of and 100 ft below N8510M. The data showed that the airplanes were in a descent about 400 ft above ground level when the ADS-B data ceased temporarily at 1955:23 for N8510M and at 1955:28 for N1558W. The data for N8510M resumed at 1255:38 and showed the airplane in a climb along a southeast heading. The track for N1558W resumed at 1255:45 and showed the airplane in a climb on a similar heading about 70 ft in trail and 125 ft below N8510M.

Video recorded by a ground witness captured both airplanes seconds before their collision, which showed N8510M descend to a low altitude, deploy fire retardant, and then immediately begin a shallow climb. The video showed N1558W following very close in trail of N8510M during this time. N1558W then deployed fire retardant and began a rapid climb. Witnesses in nearby firefighting aircraft stated that they heard the pilot of N1558W announce over the radio that he had retardant on his windshield and was initiating a go-around. According to witnesses on the ground, as N1558W climbed, it suddenly began a left turn and collided with N8510M. Both airplanes then descended rapidly to the ground.

Postaccident examination of the accident site revealed that N8510M was mostly consumed by a postimpact fire. The wings and forward fuselage of N1558W came to rest about 315 ft beyond N8510M and did not burn. The tail section of N1558W, was located about 450 ft northwest of the forward fuselage and was partially damaged by postimpact fire.

The wreckages were retained for further examination.


Red Canyon Fire
File photo of air tanker 866 (N8510M) dropping on the Red Canyon Fire in South Dakota July 9, 2016. Photo by Bill Gabbert.
Tanker 824 (N1558W)
File photo of tanker 824 (N1558W) at Boise, July 19, 2014. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

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

Photos of aircraft on the Red Canyon Fire in the Black Hills of South Dakota

Red Canyon Fire

Above: Air tanker 866 drops on the Red Canyon Fire. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

The lightning-caused Red Canyon Fire was reported at 12:45 p.m. MDT on Saturday 9 miles southwest of Pringle, South Dakota but an aggressive attack on the ground and from the air stopped it at 13 acres.

In addition to engines, and water tenders, and four hand crews, at least 10 aircraft joined the battle. We were there for a couple of hours and observed one large air tanker, at least five single engine air tankers, one Sikorsky Skycrane helicopter, a lead plane, an air attack ship, and an Astar B3 helicopter.

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