On April 15, 2008, a Single Engine Air Tanker (SEAT) crashed while making a drop on the Training Area 25 (TA25) fire on the Fort Carson military reservation near Colorado Springs, Colorado. Pilot Gert Marais died in the crash.
This was the same day that two firefighters died while responding to another wildland fire about 60 miles to the southeast near Ordway.
The National Transportation Safety Board has released their “factual report” about the SEAT crash. It includes the information that a type 1 military helicopter, an Army CH-47, had been used on the fire but was removed due to strong winds. At the time of the crash, a U.S. Forest Service person on the ground who was directing the SEAT estimated that at the time of the crash the wind was out of the southwest at 30-40 knots. Winds at the Fort Carson airfield, 5 miles from the crash site, were between 20 and 40 knots from 1300 to the time of the accident at 1815.
From the NTSB report, here is the statement of the pilot of the second SEAT from the same company.
According to the pilot of the other Aero-Applicators, Inc. airplane, the company received a phone call from the Colorado State Forest Service, Fort Collins, Colorado, dispatch facility, inquiring whether they could assist in fire fighting efforts at the TA25 wildfire near Fort Carson (approximately 130 nautical miles (nm) southwest of Sterling). The company administrative assistant passed the phone call to the accident pilot, who was at another location at the time of the original call (the accident pilot was the one who was to make the decision because he was the lead air tanker pilot for Aero-Applicators, Inc.). Approximately 15 minutes after the original call was received, the accident pilot arrived at the company location.
The accident pilot informed the second pilot that Fort Collins dispatch contacted him regarding the request, and he was going to check the weather because they were aware of high winds in the Fort Carson area. The accident pilot stated that anything over 20 knots, they were not going. After checking the weather via the internet, he decided that support to Fort Carson was not an option due to the high winds. The accident pilot called back to Fort Collins dispatch and told them they could not go to Fort Carson. Fort Collins then asked them if they could go assist in fire fighting efforts at a wildfire that was near Ordway, Colorado (approximately 140 nm south of Sterling, approximately 55 nm southeast of Fort Carson). The accident pilot decided that they would give that location a try because it was in the plains/flat area, and the winds were probably not as high.
Approximately 1645, the two airplanes (both AT-602s) were loaded full of fuel and 500 gallons of water and Class A foam, and they departed 3CO2 for Ordway. While en route, they still had not received the latitude/longitude coordinates for the Ordway fire from Fort Collins dispatch, so the accident pilot contacted them via radio. Fort Collins dispatch then told them to change their plans and go to the TA25 wildfire instead. The two pilots decided that since they were already halfway to Fort Carson or Ordway, and they would at least check out the flight conditions at the TA25 wildfire before they cancelled the mission. Fort Collins dispatch gave the pilots the coordinates for the TA25 wildfire, and the two airplanes diverted to that location.
When the two airplanes arrived, the incident commander (IC) gave them instructions on what they wanted them to do. The IC asked the accident pilot to plan a drop at the head of the fire. The accident pilot performed a dry run over the area and then told the IC that the winds and turbulence were too strong to do a drop. During the dry run, the second pilot tried to stay above and behind the accident pilot in order to provide observation support. The IC then requested a different droplocation along the road, which was an east/west road located north of one end of the wildfire and adjacent to Highway 115. Prior to the drop, the IC informed the accident pilot about gusty winds and power line hazards.
The accident pilot made his drop, east to west, approximately 50 feet agl, where the IC told him to drop. The second pilot thought the drop looked good. After checking his position, the second pilot looked down at the accident pilots airplane and observed the accident airplane in a 180-degree vertical going down. The airplane impacted the terrain at a 45-degree nose-down angle, and then the airplane’s tail came down. The second pilot immediately turned his airplane and flew to the southwest, and milked out his load over sections of the fire. The second pilot called the IC and asked about the accident pilots condition. After hearing about the accident pilot, he then turned the east/northeast and headed back to Sterling. The second airplane landed at Sterling approximately 1900.
The second pilot estimated the winds at the time of the accident to be at least 30 knots and gusting. He stated it was difficult to hold altitude and airspeed while maneuvering during the accident airplanes drop, and he rolled in flaps at various times because his airspeed was getting slow once in awhile.
Here is an excerpt from a witness statement of El Paso County Sheriffs Office personnel:
The airplane flew directly in front of them. One witness reported, It flew straight up, but not completely vertical, and then dipped both its wings slightlythe plane then crashed onto a hill on the west side of Highway 115. Another witness reported, Once the discharge of slurry ceased, the plane took an almost completely vertical pitch and then dipped its left wing slightly, and then the nose of the aircraft turned north as it somewhat leveled out, and then the plane hit the ground and landed on its underside.
Thanks, Dick, for the tip.