Thursday, January 1, 2009

Wife of air tanker crash victim still seeks answers

Wildfire Today yesterday covered the release of the NTSB report about the crash of the Single Engine Air Tanker last April in Colorado. The Great Falls Tribune has an article about the reaction of the pilot's wife to the report. Here is an excerpt from the article:
A Fort Benton woman is still looking for answers after reading a plane crash investigation report that found fire dispatchers had urged her husband to fight a Colorado wildfire despite his apprehension about strong winds.

Esme Marais said she received no closure from the National Transportation Safety Board's findings on the crash that killed her husband, 42-year-old Gert Marais, in April. Today would have been his 43rd birthday.

The board found that Gert Marais warned officials about high winds several times but was still urged by a dispatcher to change course to a Fort Carson, Colo., fire. He was killed after his single-engine air tanker nose-dived into the ground in winds that investigators determined were more than 34 mph.

Esme Marais said she still wants to know who exactly pushed her husband to fly amid strong winds and why. But she does not know whom to ask or where to turn to next.

"Nothing will change the outcome of this situation but if they can learn to do things properly, somebody can be saved," she said.

She added that it seemed as if fire dispatchers in this case were careless and that her husband would still be alive had they not pressured him. She hopes that her husband's death will bring about changes in the center's dispatch procedures to prevent a crash from happening under similar circumstances.

Officials with the Rocky Mountain Area Fire Coordinator Center, which manages firefighting efforts in Colorado, are reviewing the report and have not yet issued an official response, said Steve Segin, the center's spokesman.

"Obviously we regret any loss of life. Any lessons we can take out of this ... we'll get that from (the report)," Segin said.

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