Updated at 10:15 p.m. MDT, June 3, 2012
Crash of Air Tanker 11
An air tanker crashed around 1:45 p.m. while working on a wildfire near the Nevada/Utah border today. Tanker 11, a P2V operated by Neptune Aviation, was working on the White Rock fire which started in Nevada 25-38 miles northeast of Caliente, but the fire burned across the state line into Iron County in Utah, which is where the aircraft went down.
There were two people on board, and it was confirmed late this afternoon by Don Smurthwaite at the National Interagency Fire Center that both of them died in the crash. Fox 13 reports that “Det. Jody Edwards, Iron County Sheriff’s Office, identified the two victims as Capt. Todd Neal Topkins and First Officer Ronnie Edwin Chambless.” Both were from Boise.
The accident occurred at the head of the fire, which made it difficult for rescue personnel to access the crash site.
Tanker 11, registration #N14447, was 57 years old, having been delivered in 1955.
Our condolences go out to the families and coworkers of the crew.
The video below has an interview with Sheldon Wimmer of the BLM in which they discuss the accident and air tankers in general. At 45 seconds, there is very rare footage of what appears to be Tanker 40, the jet-powered BAe-146, making a drop.
Wheels-up landing, Tanker 55
Another incident occurred today involving a second P2V large air tanker, this time operated by Minden Air Corp out of Minden, Nevada. Our source tells us that only one main landing gear and the nose gear were able to be lowered and locked on Tanker 55, leaving one main landing gear up or not locked. The aircraft landed at Minden on just two of the three landing gears.
The air tanker was making retardant drops on the George Fire within the Giant Sequoia National Monument in California when the crew experienced problems with the aircraft, according to Stanton Florea, a US Forest Service spokesperson. The tanker had been reloading with retardant at Porterville, California, but the pilot decided to fly to the company’s base in Minden, Nevada to attempt to land. After arriving in the vicinity of the Minden airport they circled for 90 minutes in order to burn off fuel. Thankfully, the crew was not injured in the landing.
Tanker 55, registration #N355MA, is 55 years old, delivered in 1957.
News4 out of Reno has some photos showing the aircraft to be largely intact, and they described it as a “successful belly landing”. (Note: the video may not work in Firefox.)
HERE is a link to a better video of the emergency landing.
When we have additional details about these two incidents, we will post them here.
Large air tankers grounded
All federal large air tankers have been grounded for the rest of the day. Not because of any specific aircraft issues, but in consideration of the crews flying and maintaining the remaining nine air tankers. The air tanker community is small and close-knit.
Other recent P2V crashes
Air tankers operated by Neptune also crashed in 2008 and 2009. Tanker 09 crashed September 1, 2008 as it was taking off at Reno. Tanker 42 crashed April 25, 2009 while it was ferrying from Missoula, Montana to Alamogordo, New Mexico. Three people died in each incident.
Other incidents within the last two years
- In 2010 a Neptune-operated P2V ran off the end of the runway at Jeffco airport in Colorado after the brakes failed.
- Earlier in 2012 the crew flying a Neptune-operated P2V was not able to lower the landing gear using conventional means after having what was described as “a complete hydraulic failure”, forcing the crew to manually extend the gear. It declared an emergency and as it landed at Missoula it was met by fire trucks.
- A few weeks ago a couple of P2Vs working out of Prescott, Arizona made emergency landings after having engine problems.
- Earlier this year a 24-inch crack in a wing spar and skin was discovered on Tanker 10, a Neptune-operated P2V. A few weeks ago Neptune told Wildfire Today that they would not attempt to repair the aircraft this year and it would be put into storage.
Nine large air tankers left
Before the two crashes, there were ten P2Vs and one BAe-146 working on federal exclusive use contracts. This leaves only nine large air tankers in the federal fleet, compared to the 44 on contract in 2002. The U.S. Forest Service still has not made any decisions about awarding additional contracts based on their solicitation for “next generation” air tankers which closed in February, 2012. The next-gen air tankers would eventually replace the P2Vs which are over 50 years old.
In December we wrote about possibilities for next-gen air tankers.