PRINCE ALBERT, Sask. (CP) - A "bird dog" pilot and a fire
attack officer died last year because their plane likely stalled
while turning over a raging forest fire north of Edmonton, says a
report by the Transportation Safety Board of Canada.
Pilot Grenville Richert of Prince Albert, Sask., had little time
to recover before the Air Spray Ltd. Cessna 310 crashed into hilly
terrain on May 25, 2001.
Richert and John Graham, a veteran air attack officer from
Grande Prairie, Alta., were helping guide water bombers on their
runs over the fire 160 kilometres northwest of Slave Lake.
"The aircraft likely entered a stall during a low-level turning
manoeuvre from which recovery was not possible," said the report.
The safety board does not assign fault or determine civil or
criminal liability. Its report said an examination of the aircraft
wreckage revealed no defects that could have led to the accident.
Several factors were involved during the plane's final
manoeuvre, including low relative airspeed, a steep left turn, and
a forward centre of gravity, which increases the speed needed to
avoid stalling, the report said.
Richert, 36, was an experienced pilot, having flown more than
10,000 hours in a variety of aircraft. He had been around planes
since he was a young boy, his dad having worked for Athabasca
Airways as a mechanical engineer.
It was his first operational flight of the season.

A bird dog pilot helps plan and check routes to and from the
water bomber drop zones, and leads the water bombers into their
runs. It is common for bird dog pilots in the Cessna 310 to conduct
their low-level operations at low speeds.
Witnesses said they last observed Richert and Graham making a
left turn early that afternoon at about 60 metres above ground
level, close to the fire's east flank.
On hitting the ground, the aircraft cartwheeled and tumbled. An
intense fuel-fed fire, which the blaze initiated, consumed the
wreckage and spread into the surrounding forest, the report said.
There was no distress call from the pilot before impact, said
the report.

(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press