The tragic loss of two lives in the crash of Air Tanker 11 while suppressing a wildfire on Sunday has cast a spotlight on the air tanker program and the military surplus aircraft that make up the fleet. The aircraft that crashed this week was 57 years old. Tanker 55 that made an emergency landing the same day on partially disabled landing gear is 55 years old. Both of these aircraft were Korean war vintage P2Vs, designed for patrolling over the ocean, not diving in and out of smokey canyons.
Chuck Bushey, the past President of the International Association of Wildland Fire, has been researching and assembling records of wildland firefighter fatalities for decades. I have been comparing notes with him this week and his official count of fatal crashes of P2V air tankers is 9, resulting in 20 fatalities.
- 1987, (no given fire name), White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico, Pilots Nathan Kolb and Woodward “Red” Miller (Tanker 07)
- 1990, Wynoochee Fire, Olympic National Forest, Pilots Ralph Glasgow and Stephen Bovey (Tanker 08)
- 1992, (ferrying between fire duty station and home airport), Dixon, Wyoming, Pilots Mark Powers and Charles Rennisonone
- 1994, Butler Creek Fire, Lolo National Forest, Montana, Pilots Bob Kelly and Randy Lynn (Tanker 04)
- 1998, Leggert Fire, Gila National Forest, New Mexico, Pilots J. D. Donahue and Chuck Key (Tanker 08)
- 2003, (ferrying to reposition), Lake Arrowhead, California, Pilots Carl Dolbeare and John Attardo (Tanker 99)
- 2008, Smitty Fire, (crashed on take-off Reno/Stead Airport), Reno, Nevada, Pilots Gene Walstrom, Gregory Gonsioroski and Zachary Vander-Griend (Tanker 09)
- 2009, (ferrying to reposition), Toole County, Utah, Pilots Tom Risk, Mike Flynn and Brian Buss (Tanker 42)
- 2012, White Rock Fire, Ely Nevada District, Bureau of Land Management, Pilots Todd Neil Tomkins and Ronnie Edwin Chambless (Tanker 11)
Earlier we had two crashes attributed to P2V aircraft that were actually PV2 planes.