Scooping air tanker crashes in Texas Lake, pilot rescued

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The single engine air tanker was refilling at Lake Livingston

7:27 p.m. CDT August 9, 2022

Map, August 9, 2022 helicopter crash
Map, August 9, 2022 helicopter crash in Lake Livingston, Texas.

This article was first published at Fire Aviation.

Tuesday afternoon, August 9, a single engine air tanker working on a wildfire in southeast Texas crashed in Lake Livingston. The pilot was quickly rescued, taken to shore, and treated.

The accident was announced by the Texas Forest Service’s Lone Star State Incident Management Team which said the agency was assisting with wildfires in the Corrigan area.

The incident occurred at about 5 p.m. CDT. Lake Livingston is 25 miles southwest of Corrigan and 55 miles northeast of Houston.

The Air Tractor 802 Fire Boss is amphibious. It has floats and can skim across the surface of a lake to refill its water tank, then fly to the fire and assist firefighters by dropping water. The Texas Forest Service does not own any air tankers, they issue contracts to private companies.

When we hear more about the condition of the pilot we will update this article. An 802 Fire Boss usually only has one person on board.

File photo of an Air Tractor 802 Fire Boss operated by Conair. Not necessarily the aircraft involved in the incident.
File photo of an Air Tractor 802 Fire Boss. Not the aircraft involved in the incident.

There have been two other incidents in the last seven days involving Air Tractor 802 Fire Boss air tankers.

On August 3 a Fire Boss suffered an engine failure and made a forced landing while working on a fire in British Columbia. The pilot survived.

Two days later on August 5 a Fire Boss crashed and sank in the Gulf of Elefsina while working on a fire near Nea Peramos in Greece. It occurred about 12 miles west of Athens as the air tanker was scooping water. Both crew members were rescued.

There have been three recent fatal helicopter crashes related to wildfires.

On July 16, 2022 a Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office Bell UH-1H Huey helicopter crashed northeast of Albuquerque, New Mexico, killing all four on board. It had been assisting with a wildfire, providing bucket drops and other air logistics needs to fire crews on the ground.

A Boeing CH-47D helicopter crashed into the Salmon River July 20, 2022 while working on the Moose Fire in Idaho, firefighters swam across the river to extract and care for the two pilots. Unfortunately, both of the pilots died from their injuries.

On June 26, 2022 a Bell UH-1B operated by Northern Pioneer Helicopters out of Big Lake, Alaska was attempting to assist firefighters by hauling equipment to the Clear Fire by a 125-foot long line. It was maneuvering at the Clear Airport 53 miles southwest of Fairbanks about 140 feet above the ground to have the end of the long line connected to the cargo. A loud noise was heard and the helicopter fell to the ground, killing the pilot, the only person on board.

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

Video of DC-10 dropping on a fire east of Helena, Montana

Tanker 914, a DC-10, dropping on the Matt Staff RD Fire
Still image from video of Tanker 914, a DC-10, dropping on the Matt Staff RD Fire. MT DNRC.

This article was first published at Fire Aviation.

The Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation posted an excellent video of air tanker 914, a DC-10, dropping retardant on the Matt Staff Rd Fire.

The fire has burned 1,538 acres 13 miles east of Helena, Montana between Canyon Ferry Lake and US Highway 287.

All evacuations on the fire were lifted at 8 p.m. Friday, August 5th.  Matt Staff Road is still closed to the public. Montana’s County Assist Team assumed command of the fire at 12 p.m. on August 5th. The cooler temperatures and brief rain Saturday morning were beneficial to firefighting efforts.

The drop

The terrain seen in the video is not extreme, but appears to be outside the parameters NASA expected for a very large air tanker such as a DC-10.

Here is an excerpt from the NASA report issued March 2, 2009, titled “USFS Very Large Air Tanker Operational Test and Evaluation.”

The analysis suggests that for level or gently rolling terrain where level to slight descents (< 6-7%) are required, VLAT-class aircraft could probably be employed with few restrictions as long as they remained above 300’ AGL during the delivery.

Check out the video below posted by Kevin Osborne showing a DC-10 making a downhill drop in 2012 on the Goff Fire on the Klamath National Forest in Northern California.

Names of fires

On a related subject, here is my plea for initial attack and dispatcher personnel to keep the names of fires simple. Fires are usually named after a nearby landmark or geographical feature. One word is preferred, but certainly no more than two. Think about how many times the name will have to written, spoken, and typed into forms. Will spelling be easy, or will it be misleading, such as “Camp Fire”, or Road vs Rd?

Single engine air tanker makes forced landing in British Columbia

Connell Ridge Fire map, August 3, 2022 forced landing air tanker
Connell Ridge Fire map, August 3, 2022

This article was first published at Fire Aviation.

A single engine amphibious air tanker made a forced landing Tuesday while working on a wildfire in British Columbia.

“This evening a Conair 802 Air Tractor Fireboss Skimmer aircraft experienced an engine failure during operations on the Connell Ridge Wildfire, near Cranbrook,” said BC Wildfire Service Executive Director Ian Meier. “The pilot conducted a successful forced landing and was transported to receive medical assessment. Our thoughts are with the pilot involved in this incident as well as their family, friends and colleagues. The BC Wildfire Service is providing all possible assistance to the pilot and Conair.”

Jeff Berry, Director of Business Development with Conair Aerial Firefighting confirmed the pilot was able to walk away unharmed from the aircraft to a helicopter and was transported to Cranbrook for assessment by paramedics.

“His skill and training as an aerial firefighting pilot under challenging circumstances enabled him to execute an exceptional emergency maneuver resulting in a safe outcome,” said Berry. “He was faced with a problem with the engine, he went through his emergency procedures, and put the aircraft down in such a way that he was able to walk away unharmed. Faced with a difficult bunch of decisions in a very, very short period, he did exceptionally well.”

The Connell Ridge Fire 14 miles south Cranbrook, BC has burned approximately 1,235 acres  (500 hectares) since it was discovered August 1, 2022.

File photo of an Air Tractor 802 Fire Boss operated by Conair. Not necessarily the aircraft involved in the incident.
File photo of an Air Tractor 802 Fire Boss operated by Conair. Not necessarily the aircraft involved in the incident.

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

Air tanker crash in Portugal kills pilot

File photo. AT-802. Titan Aerial Firefighting photo.

This article was first published on Fire Aviation.

A pilot died Friday in the crash of an air tanker in Northeast Portugal.

In a message on his official Twitter account, Portuguese Prime Minister António Costa said, “It was with great dismay that I became aware of the death of the pilot who operated an aircraft that crashed this afternoon….I send my deepest condolences to family and friends.”

The Air Tractor AT-802AF Fire Boss went down near the town of Torre de Moncorvo after scooping water on the Douro river. The pilot was the only person on board the single engine air tanker that had departed from Viseu-Gonçalves Lobato Airport (VSE/LPVZ). Photos show that the aircraft was severely damaged. Joao Sousa, mayor of the town of Foz Coa where the incident took place, told Lusa news agency the pilot was pronounced dead at the scene.

The aircraft was operated by Titan Aerial Firefighting which has offices in Spain. The company announced on Saturday that the pilot was André Serra, from Agromontiar.

“On behalf of the whole company, friends and colleagues say goodbye to you,” they wrote. “We offer our deepest condolences to the relatives of André, a great professional and better person who has left us too soon. Rest in peace.”

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

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

A weather station recorded strong winds as air tanker crashed on Kruger Rock Fire

Pilot Marc Thor Olson was killed

1:59 p.m. MST Nov. 18, 2021

This article was first published at Fire Aviation.

Weather data from Estes Park RAWS, ESPC2
Weather data from Estes Park RAWS, ESPC2. The last observation shown is at 2224 MST Nov. 16, 2021. The observations at the arrows were 12 minutes before the last detected location of the aircraft.

Around the time Single Engine Air Tanker 860 crashed at the Kruger Rock Fire in Colorado at approximately 6:36 p.m. MST on November 16, killing pilot Marc Thor Olson, the Estes Park ESPC2 Remote Automatic Weather Station recorded sustained winds of 13 mph gusting to 32 mph out of the west. The station is 3.7 miles northwest of the fire at 7,892 feet and its anemometer is 20 feet above the ground.

N802NZ, last 10 minutes of flight tracking data
N802NZ, last 10 minutes of flight tracking data, Nov. 16, 2021. FlightAware.

Looking at the flight tracking log from FlightAware above, the wind appeared to be much stronger at the plane’s altitude, which was 8,950 to 10,450 feet while it was over the fire. The highest peak just south of the fire is at 9,400 feet.

Map of the Krueger Rock Fire
Map of the Krueger Rock Fire, Nov. 17, 2021. Colorado’s Multi-Mission aircraft and crew.

As it made four orbits near the fire during the 10 minutes it was in the area, the ground speed of T-860, an Air Tractor 802A (N802NZ) varied from a low of 82 mph while flying west to a maximum of 200 mph when east-bound. These shifts in ground speed were consistent during all four orbits. This indicates a very strong wind out of the west, a direction that is consistent with the data from the weather station.

The last flight of Tanker 860 N802NZ
The last flight of Tanker 860, N802NZ. The flight originated at Northern Colorado Regional Airport. FlightAware. Note that the times are in CST.

There are two reasons that fixed wing air tankers avoid attacking wildfires during strong winds. One, the wind makes it difficult or impossible for the retardant to hit the target, getting blown horizontally as it falls from the aircraft to the ground. Second, flying low and slow, as air tankers have to do, is difficult in mountainous terrain with calm winds, but it can be extremely hazardous during strong winds.

When you add a third complexity of dropping at night using night vision goggles, something that has been done very little in the history of aviation, and never before in Colorado, the pilot had the deck stacked against him. The chances of stopping or slowing the spread of the fire with retardant, water, or any other suppresant, were very, very slim. (There is a report that the operator of the aircraft, CO Fire Aviation, experimented with night drops in Oregon in 2020 and 2021.)

The weather forecast available from the National Weather Service that Tuesday afternoon called for continued very strong winds until sundown and a chance for snow Tuesday night. It predicted dry weather on Wednesday and Thursday with high temperatures in the 30s and 40s under mostly sunny skies with the relative humidity around 20 percent. The wind chill was expected to be below zero from Wednesday afternoon until Thursday afternoon. The actual low temperature Tuesday night turned out to be 11 degrees.

Risk vs. reward

With 20/20 hindsight looking at risk vs. reward, this was a very high risk mission. The potential reward was little, considering the likely effectiveness of 700 gallons of suppressant blown off target by strong winds and the weather forecast of a chance of snow in a matter of hours and wind chills the next day below zero.

Who decided to attempt the night flight?

The short answer is, the Larimer County Sheriff’s office ordered the aircraft to respond to the fire, using a “verbal call when needed contract”, an arrangement that was first agreed to on October 5, 2021.

A preliminary map appears to show that the fire was just inside the boundary of the Roosevelt National Forest. The Larimer County Sheriff’s office said on Wednesday Nov. 17 that as of 7 a.m. that day the fire was being managed by a unified command with the US Forest Service and the Sheriff.

In Colorado, Texas, and Wyoming the local county sheriffs are given the responsibility for suppressing wildfires outside of cities unless they are on federal land. The Kruger Rock Fire was in Larimer County.

As Wildfire Today reported November 16, before the fatal flight, T-860 departed from the Fort Morgan, Colorado airport, orbited the fire about half a dozen times, then landed at Northern Colorado Regional Airport at 4:38 p.m. MST. This flight is listed in the image from FlightAware above as one of two flights that day for the aircraft. It turns out that on the first flight it dropped water on the fire, which the pilot reportedly described as “successful”. After it landed at Northern Colorado Regional Airport it reloaded with “fire suppressant” instead of water, and by 6:13 p.m. MST was airborne returning to the fire.

Sunset that day was at 4:44 p.m. MST. The air tanker disappeared from tracking at 6:35 p.m., about 1 hour and 49 minutes after sunset. Air tankers working for the U.S. federal government are allowed to drop only as late as 30 minutes after official sunset.

The Denver Post reported that CO Fire Aviation said in a statement, “There was no aerial supervision or lead plane required for the mission and weather and wind conditions were reported to be within limits of our company standard operating procedures.”

In the video below Juan Browne has strong feelings about this incident. Shortly after posting it, he wrote a comment saying, “GROUNDSPEED NOT AIRSPEED!”

Below is an excerpt from a statement released November 17, 2021 by the Larimer County Sheriff’s office:

Continue reading “A weather station recorded strong winds as air tanker crashed on Kruger Rock Fire”

Air tanker crashes in Turkey with eight on board

Was being leased from Russia

9:29 a.m MDT August 14, 2021

A Be-200ES rolls out for the public while another makes a demonstration water drop. May 30, 2016. Beriev photo.

(This article was first published on Fire Aviation)

The Russian Defense Ministry has confirmed that a Beriev Be-200 air tanker crashed in Turkey Saturday. There was no immediate word on the condition of the five Russian army personnel and three Turkish officers that were on board.

A low resolution video (below) showed what may have been the aircraft dropping water then continuing toward what appeared to be rising terrain.

The aircraft was being leased from Russia and went down near Adana, the Russian Defense Ministry said.

The Turkish state news agency Anadolu reported that rescuers who rushed to the scene had video footage showing plumes of smoke from the site.

Beriev began manufacturing the Be-200 in 2003. It is one of the few purpose-built air tankers, designed primarily for fighting wildland fires. The aircraft can land or take off on water or land, and the firefighting version can scoop water to refill its 3,000-gallon tanks. It can be converted to haul passengers or serve as a search and rescue aircraft, landing on water to retrieve victims if necessary.

Roughly 10 years ago U.S. Forest Service employees traveled to Taganrog, Russia the home base of the Beriev company, to conduct tests to determine if the Be-200 could be approved by the Interagency Airtanker Board (IAB). At the time, we heard unofficial reports that it met the criteria for water-scooping air tankers, but tests were not completed for dropping fire retardant.

Be-200ES air tanker
File photo of Be-200ES air tanker. Beriev photo.

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