A US Air Force report concluded that strong winds out of a thunderstorm caused the crash of a military C-130 air tanker July 1. The accident occurred on the White Draw Fire near Edgemont, South Dakota and resulted in four fatalities. Two crewmen in the rear of the aircraft were injured but survived. Those two were operating the Modular Airborne FireFighting System (MAFFS) in the cargo hold which enables the C-130 to function as an air tanker, capable of dropping up to 3,000 gallons of fire retardant.
The report said a microburst of turbulent air out of a thunderstorm caused the crash. During a previous retardant drop on the fire the aircraft experienced a drop in airspeed despite operating under full power. Before the second drop the crew discussed the air speed problem but decided they could adjust to the conditions. The plane crashed on the second drop about five minutes after the first one.
A lead plane flying a half-mile ahead of the C-130 experienced a microburst that pushed it within 10 feet of the ground. According to a news release from the Department of Defense:
The investigation also determined factors that substantially contributed to the mishap included the failure of the Lead Plane and Air Attack aircrews to communicate critical operational information; as well as conflicting operational guidance concerning thunderstorm avoidance.
“If you add all the pieces up, it was very clear they should not have attempted the second drop,” said Brig. Gen. Randall Guthrie, the Air Force Reserve officer who led the investigation. “With all apparent conditions, they should not have gone ahead.”
The Associated Press reports:
“They struggled to keep that [lead] plane flying,” Guthrie said. A second small plane also reported “more than moderate turbulence.”
The crews of those planes failed to alert the trailing C-130 to go around the storm, the investigation found. Instead, the lead plane crew advised the C-130 to drop its load of retardant to lighten the craft to help it climb.
“We felt like they had information and the importance of that information was not passed,” Guthrie said. Those crews later said “they also didn’t really add all those factors up themselves.”
The C-130 dropped the retardant but crashed seconds later, dropping into a lightly-wooded plateau, then into a ravine and breaking apart.
The aircraft that crashed was MAFFS #7 from the North Carolina Air National Guard’s 145th Airlift Wing based at Charlotte-Douglas International Airport.
We are working on obtaining a copy of the full report. We we get it, we’ll update this article with a link.
Killed in the crash were Lt. Col. Paul Mikeal, 42, of Mooresville; Maj. Joseph McCormick, 36, of Belmont; Maj. Ryan David, 35, of Boone; and Senior Master Sgt. Robert Cannon, 50, of Charlotte. The two seriously injured were Chief Master Sgt. Andy Huneycutt and Sgt. Josh Marlowe of Boiling Springs.
UPDATE: links to the report can be found at FireAviation.com
Thanks go out to Al