Thursday, April 24, 2008

CO: Details about SEAT crash

More information has been released about the single engine air tanker that crashed on April 15 near Fort Carson in Colorado.
Gert Marais reported a mayday and said, "I'm going down," just before his single-engine air tanker crashed while fighting the 9,800-acre Fort Carson fire last week, the National Transportation Safety Board reports.

But the preliminary report from the NTSB does not identify a crash cause.

Marais, 42, of Fort Benton, Mont., (see photo below) was a pilot and mechanic and worked as a contractor for Aero Applicators of Sterling.

The Colorado State Forest Service had called the company to help fight the fire.

Two planes left Sterling at 5 p.m. with full fuel tanks, 500 gallons of water and Class A foam, the report said. Marais was flying an Air Tractor AT-602.

When the planes arrived at the site, a U.S. Forest Service agent on the ground maderadio contact to give the pilots directions.

The agent worked with Marais to do a practice run over the drop site, a line of pine trees to the north of a gravel road bordering the wildfire. The goal was to douse the trees in case the fire jumped the road.

Marais flew over the site, the NTSB report said, with the other plane about 500 feet overhead as a spotter.

Then Marais made the real drop. He flew over the top of a tall pine tree and released his load 500 feet west of the target, right on top of the U.S. Forest Service agent and his car.

A second or two later, the agent told investigators he heard Marais report a series of maydays and say, "I'm going down."

The agent watched the plane's right wing hit the ground on a grassy hill just off Colorado 115. The time was 6:10 p.m.

The tanker landed upright, with the right wing and fuselage crushed. The U.S. Forest Service agent told investigators that wind gusts at the time were 30 to 40 knots.

Fire investigators with the U.S. Army and the El Paso County Sheriff's Office have yet to release the cause and specific point of origin of the fire on the base, which was declared fully contained Wednesday.

A funeral for Marais, who was a native of South Africa, will be Friday in Montana.

His wife, Esme, and the couple's children had planned to move to Sterling this summer.

The couple were married 10 years ago this month. He was already caring for three of his children from a previous marriage, ages 19, 17 and 12, and together he and Esme had a 5-year-old.
Photos and excerpt courtesy of the Denver Post.

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