NTSB releases factual report on crash of Tanker 09

Tanker 09 last drop
Air tanker 09 making their last drop, September 1, 2008 before it crashed at Reno later that day.

UPDATE July 4, 2012: HERE is a link to the NTSB’s final report. Below is an excerpt from the summary:

NTSB summary crash p2v 9-1-2008



The factual report that the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) released on December 28 about the crash of Tanker 09 on September 1, 2008 does not have any surprises. Witnesses had reported that the left turbojet engine on the P2V was on fire during takeoff from Reno. The report confirms there was a compressor disc failure in that engine.

Here are some excerpts from the report:

The airplane is powered by two radial, 18 cylinder, aircooled, Curtiss Wright R3350-32WA engines, rated at 2,800 horsepower, driving Hamilton Standard hydromatic propellers, and two auxiliary Westinghouse J34-WE-36 turbojet engines, each rated at 1,500 pounds of thrust. The turbojet engines were installed to improve takeoff characteristics at increased gross weights and to furnish additional power when required.


The airplane’s left outboard engine (position #1) was a Westinghouse J34-WE-36 turbojet engine, serial number 211235. Total time on the engine was 703.4 hours, 384.4 hours since overhaul, and 64 hours since its last inspection.


The engine originally had been in service with the United States Navy, and at the time of its initial civilian installation on a Black Hills Aviation P2V on May 16, 1986, it had accrued 458.7 hours since new, and 128.4 hours since overhaul.


After in-depth inspection and analysis, it was determined that the 11th stage compressor disc had failed near the transition radius between the disc web and the bolting ring. This engine was manufactured by Westinghouse, identified as model J34-WE-36, serial number 211235.


The airplane’s left outboard engine, serial number 211235, was located about 580 feet from the IIP on a measured magnetic heading of 239 degrees. A visual examination at the wreckage site revealed that the engine’s compressor section had separated prior to impact.

Three aerial firefighters were killed in the crash: Pilots Gene Wahlstrom and Greg Gonsioroski, and mechanic Zachary Vander Griend. Mr. Wahlstrom was the chief pilot for Neptune Aviation, and it was Mr. Vander Griend’s first flight in a P2V.

The NTSB has not released a factual report on the other crash of a Neptune Aviation P2V, Tanker 42, which occurred on April 25, 2009 near Toole, Utah killing three crew members. Their final report can be found HERE.

More details emerge about the loss of 2 firefighters and Camp 16

A television station in Los Angeles, KTLA, has put together more details about the Station fire and the events that led to the deaths of two Los Angeles County Fire Department firefighters and the burn over of Camp 16 on August 30, a facility housing inmate firefighters. KTLA obtained, through federal and state disclosure laws, U. S. Forest Service and county dispatch logs, the “daily summaries” (ICS-209, Incident Status Summary?), e-mails, and volumes of other records. The Station fire started on August 26 near Los Angeles, burned 160,000 acres, and killed two county firefighters, Capt. Tedmund Hall and Spc. Arnaldo Quinones.

Camp 16, Station Fire
Camp 16

A key focus of KTLA’s inquiry was what led to the burn over of Camp 16, the destruction all of the facilities there, and the deaths of the two firefighters who were killed while trying to find an escape route for the others at the camp.

The burn over of Camp 16 occurred on day 4 of the fire, a period of time in the life of a fire by which most of the essential pieces of the fire suppression puzzle are in place and the typical chaos has been converted to an appearance of order.

Since the camp was never evacuated, it appears that the incident management team running the Station fire either forgot about Camp 16, assumed it was not occupied, hoped it was fire-safe, or thought they would take care of themselves, since the personnel at the camp were all firefighters. You have to wonder, also, what the thought process was on days 1, 2, 3, and 4 in the Los Angeles County Fire Department which managed the fire personnel at the facility, and if there was anything that could have been done before the fire to reduce the chances of the facility being totally destroyed when the inevitable fire visited the area.

Below is an excerpt from the article by KTLA.


…County Fire Chief Deputy John Tripp, the No. 2 executive in the department, said he did not believe that the camp had been an afterthought to the commanders. He also said that his agency had “some communications” with the crews during the firefight. A county review of the response to the Station blaze termed those communications “sporadic.”

Asked if it had been too risky for firefighters to stay at the camp, Tripp said, “That I can’t talk about yet.” He deferred to an inquiry into the deaths by the county and the state Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, whose findings are due to be released in the coming days.

Don Feser, former fire chief of the Angeles National Forest, said it was senseless to have kept crews at the camp, especially because they were waiting for the blaze to reach them rather than actively confronting it.

“It wasn’t like there was any engagement going on,” he said. “It was an oversight, I’m guessing, in the county command system. . . . They either forgot about them, or the people who were calling shots for the county were oblivious about what could happen to them.”

Feser, who retired in 2007 after seven years as chief, said it was a mistake not to include the camp in the wider Station fire fight: “The incident command teams should have been double-checking to make sure that they didn’t have anybody out there, that everybody’s been evacuated.”

A preliminary county report and interviews show the crews had abandoned any hope of taking a stand against the fast-moving fire on that fateful Sunday morning, Aug. 30, and instead scrambled for cover in a dining hall and their vehicles.

“It got to the point where there was no oxygen to breathe,” said the firefighter who was at the camp.

At 4:15 p.m., “fire conditions around the camp began to deteriorate very rapidly,” the report states. At 5:15, it says, “an accounting of all personnel began, and it was determined that two personnel were missing.” At 5:41, this chilling entry appears in Forest Service dispatch logs: “Camp 16 has been burned over.”

As the flames roared up through the camp, exploding through the treetops, the crew members sought refuge in the dining hall, then were marshaled outside as the fire surrounded the building; they huddled in trucks and engines, and some unfolded hand-held shelters, according to witnesses and records. “We thought we were going to die,” said the firefighter who was on Mt. Gleason.

Friends honor NSW park ranger

Aaron Harber
Aaron Harber, holding a muttonbird in the Nimboi-Binderay National Park. The Australian

The park ranger who was killed in a helicopter crash on Wednesday in New South Wales has been identified as Aaron Harber. The helicopter crashed in heavy fog as it was on its way to pick up other members of a rural firefighting team near Dorrigo in Australia. The pilot was seriously injured in the crash and is in critical condition with head and chest injuries.

From The Australian:

Yesterday Harber’s friends paid tribute to a family man who worked tirelessly for the community.

“He was a big-hearted, down to earth, really nice guy who was generous with his time. The whole town is in a state of shock,” family friend Ross Pollard said.

With the National Parks and Wildlife Service since 1997, Harber moved up to Dorrigo 13 years ago with his family from Sutherland Shire in southern Sydney where he grew up.

His wife Jane Louise Geyle Harber said in a statement released yesterday afternoon, “It is with great sadness that we mourn the tragic loss of Aaron, proud husband, father and family member in a tragic helicopter crash yesterday at Dorrigo.

“While we are devastated by our loss, we take pride in the knowledge that Aaron has left a lasting legacy as a fine family man and as an active member of the Dorrigo community.

“His sacrifice will not be forgotten and he will be forever missed.”

“His family will be cared for,” Barnes said.

“We’re working with the family and we’re helping out in every way possible. We will be supporting them through this.”

“The family will be entitled to a lump sum payment from the National Parks and is also entitled to weekly payments to dependent children,” a National Parks spokesperson said.

Nearly 100 bushfires are still raging in NSW with 29 fires rated “uncontainable”.

Fires in Bundarra, Barraba and near Gwydir remain out of control, burning in and around rural properties.

“We have got a lot of fire activity from north of Tamworth to Armidale and that’s mostly a result of some dry lightning that has went through the area over the last few days,” RFS spokesman Ben Shepard said.

A statement released by NSW Health confirmed that 61 year old Bernie Schulte is in a critical but stable condition and 20 year old Cameron is in stable condition after suffering burns while defending their property in the town of Vittoria, 25km west of Bathurst.

Three helicopter incidents on fires in Australia, one fatality

Numerous media outlets are reporting that a New South Wales (NSW) Parks and Wildlife ranger who was a passenger on a helicopter died when the ship crashed on Wednesday on the NSW mid-north coast. The pilot initially walked away from the accident but is in critical condition in a hospital with injuries to the head, chest, and back.

The Bell Jet Ranger helicopter was contracted by the National Parks and Wildlife Service and the Rural Fire Service out of Glenn Innes to map a number of bushfires started by lightning overnight. It was returning to base when it crashed in a rain forest. Investigators are evaluating whether fog in the area contributed to the crash.

The pilot has over 3,000 hours of flying time.

In a second incident, two Rural Fire Service helicopters were involved in a mid-air collision when the water bucket of the higher ship contacted the rotor blades of the lower helicopter while working on a bushfire in the NSW central west on Tuesday. The four pilots were not injured and both ships landed safely, one with damage. The accident occurred in dense smoke.

The third incident occurred when the pilot of a helicopter working on a fire about 40km southeast of Tamworth was forced to make an emergency landing due to engine trouble. Again, no injuries were reported, but in the “heavy landing” the aircraft was extensively damaged.

Our sincere condolences go out to the families.

In a non-aircraft incident in Australia, two property owners were seriously burned while defending their home from a bushfire in the central-west town of Vittoria, near Bathurst on Tuesday afternoon. The 61-year old farmer is in critical condition after suffering burns over 81 percent of his body. His 20-year-old son was also injured but is in stable condition.

In the words of Sgt. Phil Esterhaus on Hill Street Blues, “Let’s be careful out there”.

DOI releases report on Aug. 20 SEAT crash

The Department of Interior’s Aviation Management Divison has released a report on the crash of the Single Engine Air Tanker in which the pilot, Dave Jamsa, was killed. The accident occurred on August 20 on the Hoyt Fire 125 miles northeast of Reno, Nevada. Wildfire Today reported on it HERE.

The report, which is in addition to and separate from any report by the NTSB, concluded that the air tanker while attempting to drop retardant on the fire did not release any retardant and impacted the ground. Investigators found that the drop mechanism had not been armed, meaning it would have been impossible to release the load.

Thanks Dick

UPDATE September 6, 2018: Here is an excerpt from the NTSB summary of the accident investigation:

NTSB summary report SEAT accident 2009

Loop fire, 43 years ago

On November 1, 1966, the El Cariso Hotshots were trapped by flames as they worked on a steep hillside in Pacoima Canyon on the Angeles National Forest.

Ten members of the crew perished on the Loop Fire that day. Another two members succumbed from burn injuries in the following days. Most of the nineteen members who survived were critically burned and remained hospitalized for some time.

Lessons learned from the Loop Fire resulted in the checklist for downhill line construction, improved firefighting equipment, better fire behavior training, and the implementation of new firefighter safety protocols.