B.C.-firefighting helicopter crashes into river, pilot missing

From the C.P.:

LYTTON, B.C. — The search continues in the rushing waters of the Fraser River for an Ontario helicopter pilot whose aircraft crashed while fighting one of the many forest fires burning across British Columbia.

The Bell 212, piloted by 53-year-old Robert Christopher Woodhead of Stoney Creek, Ont., was operating as a waterbucket on the 12-square-kilometre Intlpam fire near Lytton late Friday afternoon when it went down.

The helicopter is now submerged in 15 metres of water flowing at about 16 kilometres per hour, but there’s no sign of Woodhead, who was the only person in the aircraft.

Woodhead’s family in Stoney Creek say they aren’t commenting on the search.

Cpl. Dan Moskaluk of the RCMP says the federal Fisheries Department and a local search-and-rescue squad have boats on the water and a Mountie helicopter is searching from the air, but he says the water is too rough to use divers.

Moskaluk says witnesses reported seeing the pilot surface after the crash, prompting the Mounties to focus thier efforts on the water and riverbanks.

The B.C. Forest Service had contracted the chopper, which is the second aircraft the crash this fire season, although this is the first fatal crash.

A single-engine (air tanker) crashed into Okanagan Lake on July 25, but the pilot escaped without injury.

UPDATE at 5:10 p.m. MT, Aug. 15

The story has been updated by the Canadian press at 2:36 p.m. MT today. Here is an excerpt; the whole article is HERE:

KELOWNA, B.C. — An Ontario helicopter pilot who was helping to fight one of British Columbia’s many forest fires was still missing Saturday, a day after another pilot flying overhead was unable to pull the man from the water in a dramatic rescue attempt.

Robert Christopher Woodhead, 53, of Stoney Creek, Ont., was operating a Bell 212 with a waterbucket Friday afternoon when the aircraft when down in the Fraser River near Lytton.

Woodhead, who was based in British Columbia, was last seen in the water just after the crash by another pilot who watched from the air as the helicopter went down, said RCMP Cpl. Dan Moskaluk.

“A valiant attempt was made by lowering his line and bucket into the river near Mr. Woodhead,” Moskaluk said in an interview.

“However, he was not successful in getting the line to him and did eventually lose visual sight of the pilot in the water.”

Moskaluk said police are still considering the search a rescue operation, and are concentrating their efforts on the riverbanks in what is considered a particularly rough part of the Fraser Canyon.

 


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Thomas Marovich, service details

The Fremont Fire Department has set up a web page with the details about the funeral services for Thomas Marovich, who died in a rappelling accident on the Backbone fire on July 21.

More details are at the Fremont site, but here are the funeral arrangements:

Funeral services for Tom are planned on Thursday, July 30th at 10:30 a.m. at Saint Clements Church, 750 Calhoun Street, Hayward (corner of Calhoun and Mission Blvd.). Internment will follow the services at the Holy Sepulchre Cemetery (just North of the church on Mission Blvd.) A reception following the services is planned and announcements will be made during the services.

HERE is a link to a map of the church location.

Witness: air tanker’s landing gear was down before crash into lake

A local resident who saw the single engine amphibious air tanker crash on a lake in British Columbia on Saturday said the Air Tractor 802F’s landing gear was down when it attempted to scoop water to refill its tanks.

Canwest news service

From the Canadian Press:

A father and his son defying an evacuation order to save their waterfront home from a raging forest fire instead ended up in a race to save a waterbomber pilot whose plane had crashed into the lake.

Ed Hall and his son Fraser chose not to leave when 2,200 of their neighbours were ordered to do so on Thursday and the Terrace Mountain fire spread in the hills across the lake from Vernon.

Fraser Hall said he was testing out some new video equipment Saturday, filming as the planes dipped into the lake to get water to dump on the fire.

“And this last guy came in and we looked at each other and said ‘Oh my gosh he’s got his landing gear down,’ and we knew this was a recipe for disaster,” Ed Hall said in an interview Sunday.

The pair watched in stunned amazement as the plane somersaulted along the water.

“But fortunately, the cockpit landed cockpit up. So the pilot was sitting in the cockpit, you know, kind of stunned or dazed or maybe he was unconscious, we’re not sure,” the father said.

Ed said he was already on his way to his boat before the plane hit the water.

An officer in a nearby RCMP zodiac boat arrived at the same time as the Halls and the pilot was pulled out within seconds.

While the officer took the slightly-injured pilot to receive care, the Halls attached a tow rope to the plane, attempting to salvage the plane.

“It went poorly,” Fraser Hall explained. “We were slowly pulling it along and we got about maybe 50 feet and the body slipped off the remainder of one of the pontoons and it headed for the bottom.”

Luckily, he said, the rope snapped, or their boat may have been dragged down with it.

Air tanker crashes in lake in B.C.

CBC news in Canada is reporting that an air tanker crashed in Okanagan Lake in British Columbia while working on the Terrace Mountain fire.

From CBC news:

Canwest News Service

Transportation Safety Board spokesman Bill Yearwood said the pilot is expected to survive. The cause of the crash hasn’t been determined, Yearwood said.

Bruce Freeborn, who lives along the lake in Fintry Delta, said he was working in his yard Saturday when he heard a loud bang and saw the plane in the water.

“Its nose was under [the water] and its tail section was still up and the tip of one wing was still up,” Freeborn said, adding it was upsetting to see the plane go down when fire crews are struggling to save his home from the blaze.

CTV.ca has more information:

Conair photo

An airtanker plane engaged in fighting forest fires in West Kelowna, B.C., crashed into Okanagan Lake on Saturday, CTV News has confirmed. The pilot was able to escape unhurt.

Rick Pedersen, a spokesman for Conair, said the plane flipped over at around noon while attempting to scoop up water from the lake. But Pedersen said he doesn’t know what caused this to happen.

The AT802 Fire Boss plunged into about 110 metres of water, prompting officials from the Canadian Aviation Safety Board to launch an investigation.

Another firefighter dies in Spain

Another firefighter has died on a wildland fire in Spain when the fire truck he was driving crashed into a ravine while he was responding to a fire in Teruel province.

This is the fifth fatality in Spain in the last few days. Four firefighters died on July 21 while working on a fire in the eastern Catalonia region.

TypicallySpanish has two videos of the fires in Spain. The second one has more images of the fires.

Firefighters take cover as an air tanker makes a drop on a fire near Collado Mediano, Spain, on Tuesday. (Pedro Armestre)

Four firefighters killed in Spain

news.sky.com

From news.sky.com:

Four firefighters have died and two others rushed to hospital with life-threatening burns on July 21 after tackling a blaze in the north of Spain. The firefighters were caught off-guard by a sudden change in wind direction.

The men were involved in efforts to extinguish a huge wildfire which has so far burned over 800 hectares of forest in a national park near Tarragona, in Catalonia. Local officials say the firefighters appear to have been caught off-guard by a sudden change in wind direction, which stoked the blaze.

“They were prepared, capable, qualified firefighters,” head of the Catalan regional government Jose Montilla said. “A change in meteorological conditions caused them to lose their lives.”

One of the two men who survived suffered burns to 75% of his body, while the other suffered burns to 50% of his body, a local government official told news radio Cadena Ser.

A water-dropping aircraft was called in to help fight the blaze as the municipality of Horta de Sant Joan came under threat.

But Spanish fire crews were stretched across the country battling a number of blazes. A fire burning near the town of Collado Mediano, northeast of Madrid, forced the evacuation of some 2,000 people before it was brought under control.

Wildfires in the regions of Cuenca and Ciudad Real also prompted local authorities to close stretches of roads. Forecasters said the strong winds which have fanned flames were expected to ease, but scorching temperatures – as high as 41 degrees Celsius in some parts of the country – would remain for several days.

Euronews has a good 51-second video report about the incident.

Our sincere condolences go out to the families and co-workers of the firefighters.