Tanker 130 down !!!

WALKER, Calif. (AP) - An air tanker fighting a blaze near Yosemite National Park caught fire Monday and crashed in this Northern California resort town, killing all three crew members and just missing a mechanic's shop, authorities and witnesses said (17Jun2002).

Air tanker 130 (N130HP) plunges to the ground after breaking up in the air, its wings folding up and falling off in a ball of flame, while fighting a fire near Walker, California, June 17, 2002. All three crew members were killed when the aircraft spun into the ground just moments later. Photo by Reuter Press Agency

A Reno, Nev., television station captured the scene on videotape as the wings broke off the C-130 transport plane. The fiery fuselage then rolled left and spiraled nose first into the ground and exploded in a ball of flame.

All three crew members were killed in the crash "under unknown circumstances after making a drop" of retardant, said Jerry Johnston, operations officer with the Federal Aviation Administration in Hawthorne, Calif.

Authorities identified the crash victims as pilot Steven Wass, 42, of Gardnerville, Nev.; co-pilot Craig Labare, 36, of Loomis, Calif.; and crew member Michael Davis, 59, of Bakersfield, Calif.

Hawkins & Powers' only previous accident listed in an NTSB database is a 1999 hard landing of a helicopter during coyote research in Utah. The company owns six C-130s and 22 other aircraft.

"It was destroyed by impact and by fire," he said. Investigators for the National Transportation Safety Board were on the way to the scene.

It was unclear whether anyone on the ground was injured, though medical crews were on the way, said Laura Williams, spokeswoman for the Sierra Front Interagency Dispatch Center in Minden, Nev.

The tanker was battling an 8,000-acre blaze that had forced 400 people out of their homes in Walker, which is 90 miles south of Reno, and about 25 miles north of Yosemite. At least one home has burned.

Reno station KOLO-TV's news crew was interviewing a man watching the skies with his own camcorder near Walker Sporting Goods Mobile Home Park when the plane came into view.

The plane came in low to the ground trailing a red flow of fire retardant above tall green pines. Both wings suddenly snapped off, with flashes of flame as they separated.

"We saw it circle around once and then drop through the middle there....
That's where we saw it break up," reporter Terri Russell said.

The fire from the crash threatened about 10 structures in the immediate area, including homes, trailers and the mechanic's shop.

The wildfire began Saturday in a remote section of the Humbolt-Toiyabe National Forest that the Marines use for survival training. Unexploded ordnance in the steep, rugged area was slowing containment efforts, according to the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho.

The nation's C-130A tankers, workhorse of the firefighting fleet, were grounded Tuesday in the midst of what could become one of the worst fire seasons in history

air tankers (& N130HP) at Greybull,WY
Report on Harro Ranter's excellent Aviation Safety website: http://aviation-safety.net

This is a message from the FEMA's US Fire Administration.

The U.S. Fire Administration has received notice of the following firefighter fatalities:

Names: Pilot Steven Ray Wass (Age 42), Co-Pilot Craig Labare (36), and Engineer Michael Harlow Davis (59)
Status: Career
Date of Incident: 06/17/2002
Time of Incident: 1445 hrs
Date of Death: 06/17/2002
Fire Department: U.S. Forest Service, Sierra Front Interagency Cooperators
Fire Department Address: 2311 Firebrand Circle, Minden, NV 89432
Fire Department Phone: (775) 883-5995
Fire Department Website: http://www.sierrafront.net/
Cause of Death: Just after the crew had dropped it's load of fire retardant on a wildland blaze near Walker, CA, all three members died when the C-130 air tanker under contract to the U.S. Forest Service broke apart in flight and crashed.

Tribute is being paid to Pilot Wass, Co-Pilot Labare and Engineer Davis at:


Additional information on firefighter fatalities may be found on the USFA web site at:


To date, 46 firefighter fatalities have been reported to USFA in 2002.
END Message

This is how Tanker 130 looked when I photographed it at its homebase Greybull,WY

Lockheed C-130A Hercules N130HP (c/n 3146), formerly operated by the US Air Force as 56-0538. Even though it's over 40 years old, it's the most modern equipment with Hawkins & Powers (and with most airtanker companies). For other photos taken at Hawkins & Powers homebase, go to Greybull

In Jan.2003 news was published that this aircraft may have been used as a spy-plane !
NTSB: Airtanker Once Flew Spy Missions
RENO, Nev. (AP) - The investigation of an airtanker crash during a wildfire may have been hampered by missing records on the former Air Force plane - missing, in part, because the plane used to fly spy missions for the CIA, a federal investigator said.
The revelation has renewed criticism of the Forest Service for putting the surplus military plane to work fighting fires.
"Apparently this ... airplane at one point in time was set up along with a few others for electronic surveillance - as in CIA activity - somewhere in the world," said George Petterson, an air safety investigator for the National Transportation Safety Board.
"Those kind of airplanes basically don't exist records-wise. That could be the reason why we don't have a good history on this airplane," he told The Associated Press. Investigators are unsure how long the C-130A cargo plane had flown - as little as 3,000 hours, or possibly more than 20,000 hours - with the wing assembly that broke off its fuselage in June, killing all three crew members in a crash near Walker, Calif. The airtanker was built by Lockheed in 1956.
Last month, the Forest Service came under fire for having been repeatedly told the aging aircraft never should have been released from the Air Force "boneyard" at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in 1988.
A blue-ribbon panel investigating the matter at the request of the Forest Service recommended enhanced safety standards in planes used for fighting fires.
Petterson said the Air Force modified many of its C-130As with new wing parts in the early- to mid-1980s, though he can't tell whether the crashed plane was one of them.
"The modifications were being done because they were having problems with the airplanes' wings cracking," Petterson said. The NTSB investigator has identified fatigue cracks - one more than a foot long - in the wings of the plane that crashed in June and he suspects the same structural failure caused a 1994 airtanker crash that killed three crew members north of Los Angeles.
The Air Force indicated the records of the wing modifications have been destroyed, Petterson said. Complicating matters is that the company that performed the modifications, Aero Corp. in Lake City, Fla., "kept the records for many, many years, but they since have been disposed of," he said. He added that "it would help make the fatigue cracking a little more understandable" if the plane had flown more than 20,000 hours, as opposed to as few as 3,000.
Aero Corp. no longer exists. Michael Moore, general manager of the company that acquired it, Timco Aviation Services of Greensboro, N.C., declined to comment.
An Air Force Reserve spokesman at the Pentagon said paperwork typically accompanies surplus military aircraft to the new owner, but he had no information on the plane.
Critics of the Forest Service firefighting fleet have alleged that planes on contract to the agency were being used in covert operations after they left the military and were in the possession of private contractors.
This plane involved in the crash was one of nearly two dozen the Air Force released to private contractors in the late 1980s and early 1990 under an aircraft exchange program. Two men involved in the program landed in federal prison after their 1996 convictions on charges of conspiracy to steal the planes.
Hawkins & Powers Aviation Inc. of Greybull, Wyo., received seven of the C-130As, including the one that crashed in June.
The head of aviation at Forest Service headquarters in Washington said the lack of documentation is a major concern. "We know some aircraft that were part of the aircraft exchange act ended up flying overseas. I don't know for what agency. If he says CIA, he might be right," Tony Kern, national aviation officer, said of Petterson's remarks.
"We also are aware there are gaps in the records of these aircraft, not just for that period of time, but records that never were transferred across from the military," he said. "If you don't know the flight hours, that's a big problem."
The aircraft exchanges were halted under the Clinton administration, but most of the planes remain in the hands of the private contractors. The transfers were portrayed at the time as necessary to bolster the Forest Service's depleted firefighting fleet. But Gary Eitel, a former Vietnam War combat pilot who filed a lawsuit to try to force the return of the planes to the government in the mid-1990s, testified before Congress that the CIA used the Forest Service to cover up its use of the aircraft for secret missions.
Kern said the Forest Service needs complete documentation on its firefighting fleet. "This is a major issue we are going to address with whatever aircraft we go with next," Kern said. "We need to have that so 20 years from now there's not another guy in this seat asking, How the heck did we get into a scenario where the NTSB can't find records on these aircraft?"

The following was published after initial investigations and grounding of the Lockheed C-130A Hercules and Consolidated PBY-4 Privateer airtankers:

Firefighting Crashes Examined by the NTSB

The National Transportation Safety Board has just released the following updated information on its investigations of two United States Department of Agriculture Forestry Service firefighting airplane crashes: Lockheed C-130A at Walker, California on June 17, 2002; Consolidated-Vultee P4Y-2 at Estes Park, Colorado on July 18, 2002. Both aircraft were registered to Hawkins and Powers, Aviation, Inc., in Greybull, Wyoming.

On June 17, 2002 a Lockheed C-130A, N130HP, broke apart in flight while executing a fire retardant delivery near Walker, California. The three flight crewmembers were fatally injured and the airplane was destroyed. The airplane was operated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture -- Forestry Service for the public-use firefighting flight under 14 CFR Part 91. A company flight plan had been filed and visual meteorological conditions prevailed. The airplane had departed Minden, Nevada, about 2:29 p.m., to participate in firefighting efforts near Walker. During the retardant drop the airplane's wings folded upwards at the center wing-to-fuselage attachment point and separated. The right wing folded just before the left wing. The crash occurred at about 2:45 p.m. Pacific Daylight Time. The aircraft was delivered to the Air Force in 1957 and acquired by the U.S. Forest Service in 1988. At the time of the accident the aircraft had accumulated about 21,863 flight hours.

The second accident occurred on July 18, 2002, at 6:40 p.m. Mountain Daylight Time, when a Consolidated-Vultee P4Y-2, N7620C, operated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture -- Forestry Service was destroyed upon impact into mountainous terrain near Estes Park, Colorado. A post-crash fire ensued. Prior to the impact, the airplane's left wing failed just inboard of engine number two. The left wing fractured at its wing-to-fuselage attachment point along the lower left spar cap. At the time of the failure the aircraft was making a 15-20 degree left bank, preparing to drop retardant on a forest fire burning northwest of Lyons, Colorado. The 2 crewmembers on board the airplane were fatally injured. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed at the time of the accident.
The public use flight originated in Bloomfield, Colorado and was being conducted under the provisions of Title 14 CFR Part 137, aerial application. No flight plan was filed. The P4Y was manufactured in 1944 and was used first by the Navy and then transferred to the Coast Guard prior to Hawkins and Powers acquiring it in 1969. Total flight hours are unknown, but from 1969 to the time of the accident the aircraft had accumulated 8,200 flight hours.

Fatigue cracks were found in pieces of wing structure in both the C-130A and the P4Y airplanes. Both investigations are closely looking at the fatigue cracks as well as other safety issues, such as inspection and maintenance procedures and operational factors. In both investigations, the Safety Board is collecting data to determine why the cracks initiated and propagated to the critical length that caused the wings to fail catastrophically.

Although metallurgical examinations of both aircraft are ongoing the preliminary results for both have indicated that widespread fatigue was not evident over the entire wing but that in some locations current crack detection techniques may have been unreliable. The Safety Board is working with the United States Air Force, Lockheed, Hawkins and Powers, and the Forest Service to review pertinent inspection and maintenance performed on the wings' structures throughout their service history.

The Safety Board is monitoring the efforts of the FAA and industry representatives to develop appropriate and effective inspection andmaintenance requirements to address critical fatigue areas. Although initial performance calculations for the C-130A's flight have been completed, additional information on fuel weights and gust load factors is still being refined in order to get a more accurate depiction of the loads the airplane experienced during the accident sequence. During a C-130A contract pre-award evaluation in 1991, the Department of the Interior's (DOI) Office of Aviation Services inspectors concluded that essential inspection and maintenance services' critical to sustaining the airplane in an airworthy condition under normal operating conditions were not being accomplished with the C-130A. This prompted the DOI, in 1993, to prohibit the use of the C-130A on DOI land. The FAA and the DOI subsequently developed an action plan to address many of the same inspection and maintenance issues seen in the most recent C-130A and P4Y accident investigations. Since that time the DOI has dropped its restrictions on the C130A and the Safety Board is investigating how the FAA and the DOI followed through with the proposed action plan and what corrective measures were put in place. Based on this information, the Safety Board will explore whether the C-130A and P4Y events were unique or a sign of systemic problems with military surplus aircraft now in public use operations. The investigations are reviewing continuing airworthiness issues including the original design intent, engineering support, mission profile, operating limits, inspection intervals and techniques and life limits of both these surplus military airplanes and relating that to the current mission for which the Forest Service is using them to determine if the airplanes' design and operational limits are appropriate for its current intended use.

FMI: www.ntsb.gov/aviation

In January 2003 the following was announced:
Following a disastrous 2002 fire season during which six air tanker crewmen were killed, the U.S. Forest Service has permanently grounded 11 air tankers. USFS Chief Dale Bosworth made the announcement last month on the advice of a five-member, blue-ribbon panel that investigated last year's two fatal air tanker crashes. Four WW II-vintage Consolidated PB4Y Privateers and seven Lockheed C-130A Hercules dating from the 1950s were grounded, never again to fly in federal service.
The PB4Ys are operated by Hawkins & Powers Aviation of Greybull, Wyo. Four of the C-130As are owned by H&P, three by TBM Inc. of Tulare, Calif.
The grounded aircraft comprise a quarter of the 44 tankers operated by private companies on USFS contracts. The remaining 33 planes must pass a rigorous inspection and follow a new maintenance program before returning to service, said USFS Fire Director Jerry Williams.
In addition to the tankers, the Forest Service also suspended the use of 19 Beech Be-58P Baron lead planes and four former-USAF Shorts C-23 Sherpa smokejumper transports. These are government-owned aircraft flown by contract personnel.

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Created: 19-6-02 Updated: 11-7-03