Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Air tanker crashes at Reno

An air tanker crashed Monday at 6:09 p.m. From RGJ.com
An air tanker on its way to a wildfire in California crashed shortly after takeoff from Reno Stead Airport on Monday evening, killing all three people on board. The names of the victims were not released, pending the notification of relatives. The crash occurred at 6:09 p.m., north of the Nevada National Guard facility in a sagebrush-covered area.

Preliminary reports from witnesses suggest the tanker lost a piece of its engine or a wing before it caught fire and went down, Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Ian Gregor said. The crash sparked a brush fire, but no homes were threatened.

The plane was identified as a twin-engine, Lockheed P2V air tanker that was fighting the Burnside Fire in Hope Valley south of Lake Tahoe. The plane was fully loaded with fuel and fire retardant and was owned by Neptune Aviation Services of Missoula, Mont., Reno fire officials were told.

"They had been working earlier in the day and were going back for one more drop," said Steve Frady, Reno Fire Department spokesman.

Crash debris was scattered over 5 acres, and the fire from the crash burned up to 2 acres. Smoke could be seen from several miles away in Reno following a report of an explosion in the area.

An eyewitness told KOLO-TV Channel 8 in a live report that she saw the back of the plane's engine on fire and a wing on fire before the plane crashed. It also appeared the plane struck a power pole and tumbled, the witness said.

Officials said some residents in the area were without power late Monday.

Assistant Washoe County Sheriff Marshall Emerson said: "Nobody is making any speculations on what possibly caused the crash."

Lights were being brought to the scene Monday night as the investigation continued. Investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board were expected at the scene today.
There is a report that the P2V that crashed was Tanker 09. Here is a file photo.

HERE is an article printed in the Missoulian in 2003 about Neptune Aviation.

Our condolences go out to the families.

UPDATE @ 3:26 p.m. MT Sept. 2

The earlier report that the air tanker had been taking off enroute to the Burnside Fire south of Lake Tahoe was incorrect. It had been released from that fire and was heading for the Smitty fire in California's Calaveras County. However, the Smitty fire canceled the order around the time the air tanker crashed.

Here is an excerpt from an article in the San Diego Union:
All three crew members were killed. Names of the victims were withheld until relatives are notified.

“By the time those folks took off, they were canceled,” Bonesteel said Tuesday.

The Smitty fire in West Point, Calif., was fully contained at 50 acres, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection's Web site.

Another air tanker also sent to the Smitty fire was canceled while en route and returned to the airport in Minden, 50 miles south of Reno, Bonesteel said. Bonesteel said the plane was under contract with the U.S. Forest Service.

The plane, owned by Neptune Aviation of Missoula, Mont., had made one flight over the Burnside fire south of Lake Tahoe on Monday morning and then returned to the Stead airport, where it remained through the day until the fatal crash.

“They were fully fueled and did have a full load of retardant as well,” Bonesteel said.

Witnesses reported seeing what appeared to be a piece of engine or wing fall from the aircraft before it caught fire and crashed about a half-mile from the runway, authorities said. Neptune Aviation Chief Executive Officer Mark Timmons said investigators were on their way Tuesday morning to the crash site.

“We don't have anybody on the ground yet,” he said. “We don't have any questions answered at this point.”

The P2V, originally developed by the Navy more than 50 years ago as a close-range bomber, has proven to be extremely reliable as an air tanker, Timmons said.

“I'm quite confident they are a safe platform,” he said.

Each airplane has undergone an inspection that takes at least a month to conduct, following fears in 1994 about using older planes, Timmons said. He said ongoing inspections, which include annual X-rays to look for cracks, is more intensive than those done on passenger planes.

Monday's crash marked at least the third time a P2V owned by Neptune suffered a fatal crash while fighting wildfires on government contract over the past 15 years. Two men were killed when one crashed near Missoula in 1994 and two other men died in a crash near Reserve, N.M., in 1998. Timmons said those previous crashes were found to be caused by pilot error.

“It is a dangerous business,” he said. “We try to do as much as we can to decrease that amount of danger, but it is a dangerous business. There are risks in it.”

No comments:

Post a Comment