Wildfire air tanker crashes, 1993-2013

Since 1994, in­cid­ents in­volving aging U.S. Forest Ser­vice fire­fight­ing planes have killed 36 crew­men. Many of the air­craft the Forest Ser­vice uses to drop wa­ter and re­tard­ant on wild­fires were built dur­ing the Eis­en­hower ad­min­is­tra­tion. Wings have broken off mid-flight. En­gines have caught fire. Pi­lots have made mis­takes, crash­ing in­to oth­er planes or fly­ing in­to in­clem­ent weath­er.

In ad­di­tion to the chal­lenges of keep­ing half-cen­tury-old air­craft flight-ready, these planes and their crews take an ex­tra beat­ing from the tur­bu­lence, up­drafts and hot ash they en­counter on fire­fight­ing mis­sions. Crit­ics say the out­dated air fleet is dan­ger­ous, in­ad­equate and no longer cap­able of help­ing to con­tain fires when they burn out of con­trol.

The map be­low shows 14 deadly in­cid­ents, which res­ul­ted in 36 deaths, dat­ing to 1994. Click on the planes to see lar­ger im­ages of the U.S. Forest Ser­vice fleet.

Full story: Fight­ing fires with aging tankers from an­oth­er era

Sept. 24, 2013
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Date Incident Deaths Aircraft Year built Operator
Jul. 1, 2012 White Draw fire, Black Hills, S.D. 4 MAFFS-equipped C-130 1994 U. S. Air Force
Jun. 3, 2012 White Rock fire, Nevada 2 Lockheed P2V-7 1962 Neptune Aviation Services
Apr. 25, 2009 Ferrying from Missoula, Mont., to Alamogordo, N.M. 3 Lockheed P2V-7 1962 Neptune Aviation Services
Sep. 1, 2008 Taking off enroute to Smitty fire, Calif. 3 Lockheed P2V-7 1962 Neptune Aviation Services 
Apr. 20, 2005 Air tanker training flight, Tahema County, Calif. 3 Lockheed P-3B 1966 Aero Union Corp.
Oct. 3, 2003 Ferry flight from Prescott, Ariz., to San Bernardino, Calif. 2 Lockheed P2V-7 1955 Minden Air Corp.
Jul. 18, 2002 Big Elk fire, Colo. 2 Consolidated PB4Y-2 1945 Hawkins & Powers Aviation
Jun. 17, 2002 Cannon fire, Humboldt Toiyabe National Forest, Calif. 3 Lockheed C-130A 1957 Hawkins & Powers Aviation
Aug. 27, 2001 Bus fire, near Hopland, Calif. 2 Two Grumman TS-2As 1953 / Unknown San Joaquin Helicopters
Jun. 27, 1998 Leggert fire, Gila National Forest, N.M. 2 Lockheed P2V-7 1961 Neptune Aviation Services
Apr. 20, 1997 200-acre fire near Bellwood Reservoir, Blair County, Pa. 2 Lockheed P2V 1945 Hirth Air Tanker
Jun. 21, 1995 Butterfield Ranch fire, Anza Borrego Desert, Calif. 3 Beechcraft Barron Beech-58P, Douglas C-54G Beech; U.S. Forest Service, Tanker; Aero Union Corp.
Aug. 13, 1994 En route to Northrop fire, Kern County, Calif. 3 Lockheed C-130A 1957 Hemet Valley Flying Service
Jul. 29, 1994 Butler Creek fire, Lolo National Forest, Mont. 2 Lockheed P2V-7 Neptune Aviation Services

Sources: Always Remember; www.wlfalwaysremember.org, Federal Aviation Administration

Credits: Armand Emamdjomeh and William J. Hennigan


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