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  1. #1
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    Post Air Tanker Investigations continue

    WASHINGTON (AP) - An investigation into the crashes of two air
    tankers fighting fires earlier this summer is focusing on whether
    they were isolated incidents or if there are problems inherent in
    using the military cast-offs to fight fires.
    Three people were killed in June when the wings separated from a
    C-130A being used to fight a fire in California. In late July, a
    P4Y-2 broke up and crashed fighting a Colorado fire, killing its
    two-man crew.
    Both planes were converted military aircraft operated by Hawkins
    and Powers Aviation, a Wyoming company that contracts with the
    Forest Service to provide firefighting tankers. The planes were 46
    and 57 years old, respectively.
    The National Transportation Safety Board said fatigue cracks
    were found in the wings of both planes and investigators are
    looking closely at the cracks and other safety issues to determine
    if they caused the wings to fail.
    The Forest Service has stopped using the 12 C-130s and P4Ys in
    firefighting operations pending the outcome of the NTSB
    investigation. The Forest Service grounded the rest of its fleet so
    it could do thorough inspections for fatigue.
    "With the (P4Y) you're talking about 50- to 55-year-old
    aircraft that have been used much longer than they were ever meant
    to be," said Robert Wofford, a pilot and trainer for Neptune
    Aviation, of Missoula, Mont., and chairman of the Associated
    Airtanker Pilots.
    But Wofford added that a well-maintained, thoroughly inspected
    plane is safe to fly, regardless of its age.
    The board said it would review the design, mission and operating
    limits of the tankers to determine whether it is appropriate for
    the Forest Service to continue using the planes.
    The Forest Service does not own its own air tankers. Instead, it
    leases the planes from private contractors who convert former
    military aircraft to carry fire retardant. This year, the Forest
    Service signed contracts to lease 45 tankers.
    The average age of the 32 tankers with manufacturing dates on
    file with the Federal Aviation Administration is 47. The oldest
    rolled off the assembly line in 1943, while the newest is 36 years
    old.
    Congress passed legislation six years ago directing the Pentagon
    to make newer tankers available, but not a single military aircraft
    has been delivered since. The military says there are no surplus
    planes available.
    The NTSB also said it is investigating how the Interior
    Department and FAA followed up on an earlier ban of C-130A tankers
    on Interior Department land. The prohibition was put in place in
    1991 after Interior Department inspectors found that inspection and
    maintenance services essential to keeping the plane airworthy were
    not being followed.
    The ban on the C-130A was lifted after an action plan was put in
    place that targeted many of the same inspection and maintenance
    issues seen in the investigation of the two most recent crashes,
    the NTSB said.
    An panel of independent experts created after the tanker crashes
    will also study the fitness of old military planes for firefighting
    duty as part of an analysis of the government's aerial firefighting
    policy, said Jim Hall, the panel's co-chairman.
    Its first in a series of public meetings is scheduled for
    Wednesday in Atlanta.
    ---
    On the Net:
    National Transportation Safety Board: http://www.ntsb.gov
    Federal Aviation Administration: http://www.faa.gov
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  2. #2
    Sr. Information Officer NJFFSA16's Avatar
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    RENO, Nev. (AP) - The aging airplanes that fight wildfires under
    federal contract for the Forest Service have been under scrutiny
    before. But none of the audits or probes or letters had the impact
    of the horror caught by a Reno television news crew in the Sierra
    this summer when an air tanker's wings snapped off in mid-air.
    The video of the plane plunging to the ground in flames, killing
    all three men on board, transfixed television viewers nationwide.
    "It was shocking," said Rep. Jim Gibbons, R-Nev., an
    ex-airline and military pilot who is pressing Congress to conduct
    an independent investigation of the aircraft program.
    "There is no doubt in my mind that it was a tragedy due to a
    structural failure in that airplane," he said. "... It's one of
    the reasons why this investigation is so critical and important."
    A month after the June 17 crash near Walker, Calif., another
    airtanker operated by the same contractor - Hawkins & Powers
    Aviation Inc. of Greybull, Wyo. - crashed near Rocky Mountain
    National Park in Colorado, killing both crew members.
    "It's absolutely ridiculous to put pressure on these men to fly
    these planes ... these pieces of junk," said Laurie LaBare, whose
    husband, Craig LaBare, and two others died in the Sierra crash.
    Forest Service officials say a new blue ribbon panel, led by Jim
    Hall, a former chairman of the National Transportation Safety
    Board, is conducting the broadest and most thorough review of the
    agency's aerial firefighting program to date.
    "The current accident rate is unacceptable," said Rose Davis,
    spokeswoman for the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise,
    Idaho. "We hope that through NTSB findings, and the information
    gathered by the Blue Ribbon Panel on Aviation, we can select a
    course of action that will guide us in future aerial firefighting
    operations both for improved safety and cost effectiveness."
    The NTSB said shortly after the fatal crashes this summer that
    fatigue cracks were found in the wings of both planes, and
    investigators are looking closely at the cracks and other safety
    issues to determine if they caused the wings to fail.
    In an update on the NTSB investigation this month, board
    officials said preliminary tests showed metal fatigue was not
    evident over the entire wing in either plane, but "in some
    locations current crack detection techniques may have been
    unreliable."
    The NTSB said it would review the design, mission and operating
    limits of the tankers to determine if the Forest Service should
    continue using them.
    Forest Service Chief Dale Bosworth has charged the new
    blue-ribbon panel with reviewing "safety, operational
    effectiveness, costs, sustainability and strategic guidance." The
    panel plans to collect input at regional town meetings.
    "We're not in a position to draw conclusions," Hall said
    Wednesday from Atlanta, where the panel conducted its first
    meeting. "We are in the 'Jack Webb phase' of the investigation -
    just the facts." It was a reference to the classic detective show,
    "Dragnet."
    Meetings are planned at Portland, Ore., on Oct. 7; Salt Lake
    City, Oct. 9; Denver, Oct. 10; Albuquerque, Oct. 22; and
    Sacramento, Oct. 24.
    In addition to the five remaining C-130As dating to the 1950s,
    the agency also is reviewing the other firefighting planes,
    including the 19 Beechcraft Barons it owns itself for use as lead
    planes.
    "All these aircraft are aging and we anticipate the fleet of
    Barons will need to be replaced over the next five years," Davis
    said.
    Gibbons said he's be eager to hear the results of the Forest
    Service and NTSB investigations.
    "But if it's a persistent pattern, that's where we in Congress
    need to step in," he said.
    "We're very concerned about whether or not these planes are the
    best aircraft available for the purposes of putting out fires. We
    are curious about their safety record. We want to know how well the
    planes are being maintained," he said.
    "They have been used pretty hard when they were in the
    military. They are expensive to maintain. They are not as airworthy
    as the newer models. Those are all issues we need to look at," he
    said.
    "We'll let the blue-ribbon plane do whatever it needs to do,
    but we also want to have our inquiry. Perhaps their agenda may be
    different from what our interests are. ... We want to take out any
    presumptions that may be in their study."
    "Three men lost their lives in that accident. Everything we do
    has to make sure they did not die in vain and that others might
    follow in their footsteps."
    Gene Powers, owner of Hawkins & Powers, defends his maintenance
    practices, declaring: "We do a better job of maintenance than
    anybody in the business."
    But experts both inside and outside the Forest Service have been
    warning since 1994 - the last time there were two fatal crashes in
    the same year - that the aircraft were not being maintained
    properly. Since 1992, there have been seven airtanker accidents and
    15 fatalities.
    "I kept telling them in 1994 and '95 and '96 that you've got to
    ground these airplanes because they are not being maintained
    properly and you are going to kill a lot of people," said Gary
    Eitel, a pilot and former aviation consultant from Seattle who
    testified about the planes' airworthiness to a congressional
    subcommittee nearly a decade ago.
    A maintenance program manager for the Forest Service reported in
    a June 1995 memo to his boss in Redmond, Ore.: "In many cases the
    only time a mechanic is sent is when it is so bad the crew cannot
    fix it.
    "Flight crews should not be doing most of the maintenance to
    the aircraft. When we allow this to happen the only things repaired
    are the items that are broken to the point the aircraft cannot
    fly," Richard R. Watkins wrote.
    Patrick J. Kelly, the agency's regional aviation officer for
    Oregon and Washington at the time, took the concerns to then-agency
    Chief Jack Ward Thomas.
    "The air tanker program seems to be in a state of decline,"
    Kelly wrote in a memo Aug. 22, 1995. "The air tanker accidents and
    incidents with serious potential of the past several years only
    highlight the concern."
    The inspectors' criticisms were generally dismissed as lacking
    specific evidence and documentation, but a safety team nonetheless
    issued a list of recommendations intended to improve safety.
    This year, in the aftermath of the fatalities, the Forest
    Service grounded the remaining five C-130As in the fleet and four
    PBY-4s, like the one that crashed in Colorado, and they remain out
    of service. In August, they ordered a reduction in weight most of
    the airtankers are allowed to carry.
    The attention this year is especially intense because of the
    television images, the product of a seasoned TV crew that spends
    part of every summer chasing wildfires across the Sierra Nevada.
    They knew that in terms of television visuals, it doesn't get any
    better than a big, lumbering airtanker dropping red retardant on a
    raging wildfire.
    "The tanker shots are the money shots. They are the pretty
    shots. They are so neat, dropping the red retardant. They take up
    the whole screen," said Terri Russell, a veteran reporter at
    KOLO-TV.
    The crew was in the evacuated town of Walker, Calif., "shooting
    scarecrows, the wind blowing things, a door going `creeeaaaaaak,"
    she said, when the tanker flew over.
    "It makes a drop and I look up and see there's flames coming
    out of the right wing. And instantaneously I thought, `That's not
    good' and boom, it just went down. ... I just saw it spiral and you
    knew it was going right into the ground. You knew nobody was going
    to walk out of that alive."
    By nightfall, the station had provided the Forest Service with a
    copy of the tape. The NTSB requested one the next day.
    "You don't often get documentation like this," Russell said.
    "It's not that you ever want to see something like that or witness
    that, but it will obviously prove fruitful, one would hope, to help
    them make sure that this doesn't happen again."

    (Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press.
    Proudly serving as the IACOJ Minister of Information & Propoganda!
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  3. #3
    Sr. Information Officer NJFFSA16's Avatar
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    WASHINGTON (AP) - The Federal Aviation Administration ordered
    wing inspections on all C-130A air tankers Thursday after
    investigators determined that cracks in the wings caused the crash
    of a tanker fighting a wildfire in California this summer.

    The wings of the C-130A snapped off and the plane was engulfed
    in flames as it dropped retardant on a blaze on June 17. Pilot
    Steven Wass, 42, of Gardnerville, Nev.; co-pilot Craig Labare, 36,
    of Loomis, Calif.; and flight engineer Michael Davis, 59, of
    Bakersfield, Calif., were killed.
    The FAA directed owners to inspect all C-130As for cracks within
    four days and conduct regular follow-up inspections.
    The National Transportation Safety Board has not released a
    final report on the investigation, although it said Tuesday that
    cracked wings caused the crash of the C-130A as well as the crash
    of a P4Y-2 in Colorado in July. That crash killed two.
    The Forest Service stopped using both planes in its firefighting
    operations. They remain grounded pending the outcome of the NTSB
    investigation.
    There are 16 operational C-130As registered in the United
    States, said FAA spokesman Paul Takemoto. All of them are former
    military aircraft that have been modified for other uses, primarily
    firefighting or aerial surveying.

    (Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press
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  4. #4
    Sr. Information Officer NJFFSA16's Avatar
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    LAKEWOOD, Colo. (AP) - Calling his company a "sacrificial
    lamb" for problems in aerial firefighting, the owner of two planes
    that crashed while fighting wildfires this summer said the
    government tries to fight fires on the cheap, refusing to spend the
    money needed for a top-notch maintenance program.
    "Our company and our industry has had our own little 9-11 right
    here," Gene Powers, owner of Hawkins & Powers Aviation Inc., said
    Thursday before a panel of experts conducting the broadest review
    of the nation's aerial firefighting program to date.
    Powers and son Duane Powers aggressively defended their
    Greybull, Wyo. company, saying that the U.S. Forest Service only
    spends about $15 million a year to contract military surplus air
    tankers dating from World War II, not enough to keep the planes in
    top shape.
    While they think it's possible to keep air tankers flying until
    the fleet can be modernized, they said the uncertainty of
    firefighting contracts prevents them from investing more money in
    their aircraft.
    "I feel that Hawkins & Powers is a sacrificial lamb if there
    ever was one," Gene Powers said. "It was a shame to suffer what
    we suffered, what the industry had to suffer just to get us to the
    position of this much attention."
    A C-130A owned by the company crashed in the Sierra Nevada near
    Walker, Calif., in June after its wings snapped off in mid-air, an
    image captured by a television news crew. All three men on board
    were killed.
    A month later, another Hawkins & Powers air tanker crashed near
    Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado, killing both crew
    members.
    The National Transportation Safety Board said fatigue cracks
    were found in the wings of both planes, and investigators are
    looking at the cracks and other safety issues to determine what
    went wrong.
    Gene Powers said the military has long known of wing problems on
    the C-130A but never told contractors who use the cargo planes to
    drop fire-retardant slurry on wildfires.
    Panel Chairman James Hall, a former head of the NTSB, was
    concerned about what the government is doing to make sure the
    contracted airplanes are safe to fly.
    "In giving an assignment, it should be the government's
    responsibility that they (contractors) have the proper piece of
    equipment to do that job," he said.
    Woody Grantham, president of Chandler, Ariz.-based International
    Air Response, said the Forest Service routinely rejects his bids as
    too high because he spends extra money on maintenance and pilot
    training.
    Instead he has accepted contracts to fight fires in France and
    Spain, where he is paid about 40 percent more.
    He also criticized fire managers for using air-tankers during
    the midday heat, something he said is a dangerous practice designed
    to get media attention.
    Grantham and the Powers complained that the Forest Service's
    practice of granting three-year firefighting contracts with the
    option of ending them after one year prevents them from investing
    in safety.
    Dale Roberts of American AeroStructures, a private Colorado
    Springs firm that specializes in commercial and military aircraft
    modifications, said contractors wrongly assume Federal Aviation
    Administration certifications for airtankers mean they for they are
    safe for fighting fires.
    Roberts said there are no special standards for using the
    airplanes for fighting fires and recommended switching to newer
    planes. Since the next generation of the C-130 is not available
    through military surplus, he recommended using civilian aircraft
    such as the Boeing 737-200, which would cost about $1 million each.
    Members of the panel, convened by the Forest Service and the
    Department of the Interior, traveled to Atlanta and three Western
    cities to gather ideas about how to improve the program before
    coming to Colorado. Meetings were also scheduled for Albuquerque,
    N.M., and Sacramento.
    They plan to produce a report before Nov. 15, allowing enough
    time before the 2003 fire season for decision-makers to act on its
    recommendations.
    ---
    On the Net:
    National Transportation Safety Board: http://www.ntsb.gov
    Federal Aviation Administration: http://www.faa.gov
    Hawkins & Powers: http://www.hawkinsandpowers.com
    National Interagency Fire Center: http://www.nifc.gov


    (Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)
    Proudly serving as the IACOJ Minister of Information & Propoganda!
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  5. #5
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    Responding to air tanker crashes, industry promises reforms

    SACRAMENTO (AP) - The aerial firefighting industry promised
    reforms Thursday to help prevent a repeat of this summer, when two
    aging air tankers crashed fighting wildfires in California and
    Colorado, killing five people.
    Increased safety will cost taxpayers a substantial but
    undetermined amount of money at a time when Western wildfires
    unprecedented in number and severity already have strained
    firefighting budgets, the Aerial Firefighting Industry Association
    said.
    In a letter released Thursday by a task force studying the
    nation's aging fleet of firefighting air tankers, the association
    said tanker companies are considering tougher and more frequent
    inspections, the use of data recording equipment to monitor stress
    on aircraft, more safety training and other changes.
    Association executive director William Broadwell said many
    reforms are already in place. New procedures will be in place by
    Jan. 1, and new equipment could be installed by the start of next
    year's fire season, the association said.
    The task force, which completed the last of six hearings
    Thursday, was established after an air tanker crashed near Walker,
    Calif., in June after its wings snapped off, an image captured by a
    television news crew. All three men on board were killed.
    A month later, another air tanker crashed near Rocky Mountain
    National Park in Colorado, killing both crew members.
    The planes were 46 and 57 years old, respectively.
    Investigations into those crashes are ongoing and it is unclear
    whether age played a role.
    Hawkins & Powers Aviation Inc., which operated both of the
    aircraft that crashed this summer, has said that the $15 million
    the Forest Service spends annually to contract for the military
    surplus air tankers is not enough to keep the planes in top shape.
    The task force is set to issue its report next month.

    (Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)
    Proudly serving as the IACOJ Minister of Information & Propoganda!
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  6. #6
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    Post Flying death traps....

    RENO, Nev. (AP) - Federal safety investigators are trying to
    determine why an airtanker fighting a wildfire for the Forest
    Service crashed in the Sierra this summer. Critics say their time
    would be better spent trying to learn why the vintage military
    surplus plane was in the air in the first place.
    The C-130A cargo plane that took three crew members to their
    deaths would have been pulled from fire duty years ago if the
    Forest Service had listened to warnings from the agency's own
    experts, the Agriculture Department's inspector general, the
    federal government's property manager, a private whistleblower who
    sued in protest and federal prosecutors in the Justice Department's
    fraud unit.
    "This is the Achilles heel of the nation's firefighting
    effort," said Jim Lyons, who directed the Forest Service as
    assistant agriculture secretary for natural resources during the
    Clinton administration. "It reminds me of the question I always
    used to ask when I was there: Why the hell do they continue to fly
    these old death traps?"
    The Forest Service was told repeatedly that the 46-year-old
    aircraft with the wing that snapped off near Walker, Calif., in
    June should not have been released from the Air Force "boneyard"
    at Monthan Air Force Base in 1988 and virtually given to Hawkins &
    Powers Aviation Inc. of Greybull, Wyo.
    Hawkins & Powers is a longtime firefighting contractor which,
    along with others, has been hired for decades for the dangerous
    mission of dropping retardant on wildfires in rough, inaccessible
    terrain.
    The company insists it legally secured the plane that later
    crashed and said its aircraft are safe.
    Critics say planes like this one that the government traded
    hoping to obtain historic, museum quality aircraft - many of which
    turned out to be worthless junk - were not being maintained to
    stringent Air Force safety standards. They say the planes should
    have been returned to the U.S. government years ago due to the
    illegal nature of the exchanges.
    The plane that crashed in the Sierra - Tanker 130, Serial No.
    56-0538 - was one of nearly two dozen the Air Force released to
    private contractors in the late 1980s and early 1990s. The aircraft
    exchange program later brought federal indictments in 1996 and sent
    two men to federal prison.
    The exchanges were halted under the Clinton administration, but
    most of the planes remain in the hands of the private contractors.
    One crashed in 1994, also killing three crew members.
    The transfers were portrayed at the time as necessary to bolster
    the Forest Service's depleted firefighting fleet to help save
    property and lives from devastating wild fires.
    But thousands of pages of court documents and correspondence
    reviewed by The Associated Press suggest the exchange was driven by
    contractors seeking profits. Some used the planes to moonlight on
    questionable overseas missions, ignoring U.S. restrictions limiting
    their use to domestic firefighting.
    The Justice Department brought criminal charges and convicted
    two men of conspiracy to steal 22 planes for their role in the
    exchange program - Fred Fuchs, the Forest Service's ex-assistant
    director of aviation, and Roy Reagan, a former Defense Department
    official and airplane broker who helped secure planes for Hawkins &
    Powers and others, including the one that crashed in the Sierra
    this summer.
    Janet Napolitano, the new governor-elect of Arizona who was U.S.
    attorney in Tucson at the time, said in the 1996 federal indictment
    that if Reagan's "true status and true intentions" had been made
    clear, the Air Force "would not have approved the transfer of the
    aircraft to the Forest Service."
    The regional chief of the property management branch for the
    General Services Administration in San Francisco had told Forest
    Service procurement officers the same thing a year earlier.
    The Agriculture Department's inspector general first recommended
    the agency repossess the planes after two of them were caught
    hauling cargo illegally in Kuwait in 1991.
    "After the inspector general's report, I think GSA, the Air
    Force and the Navy all took the position that the government should
    go reclaim those aircraft," said Ron Hooper, the Forest Service's
    procurement officer who serves as a technical adviser to an
    independent blue ribbon panel reviewing the agency's firefighting
    operation.
    As recently as November 1998, the Forest Service made an attempt
    to recover the planes, Hooper said. But the contractors resisted
    and several of the planes have been tied up in legal battles since
    in "a variety of jurisdictions," he said.
    Justice Department officials maintain the ownership of the
    planes never legally was transferred to the contractors, but said
    it wasn't their job to recover the property.
    "It was really the Forest Service's place to step in and take
    those, and they never did," said Patrick Schneider, the chief
    criminal assistant U.S. attorney in Arizona. He said he does not
    know why the planes weren't repossessed.
    Neither does Rose Davis, chief spokeswoman for the Forest
    Service's interagency firefighting unit in Boise, Idaho, who
    referred calls to Hooper.
    Even Reagan's defense lawyer at the time questioned why the
    contractors still were in possession of the planes while his client
    was being sentenced to 30 months in prison for obtaining the planes
    for them.
    "I frankly think the Forest Service plane issue is a national
    scandal," said Mel McDonald, former U.S. attorney for Arizona now
    in private practice in Phoenix.
    "The lives of dedicated firefighters are put at risk every time
    one of those half-century old C-130A aircraft is put in the air,"
    he said earlier this month.
    Experts inside and outside the Forest Service have been warning
    since 1994 - the last time there were two fatal crashes in the same
    year - that the aircraft were not properly maintained. Since 1992,
    there have been seven airtanker accidents and 15 fatalities.
    "I kept telling them in 1994 and '95 and '96 that you've got to
    ground these airplanes because they are not being maintained
    properly and you are going to kill a lot of people," said Gary
    Eitel, an aviation consultant who testified before Congress and
    filed a whistleblower lawsuit in an unsuccessful attempt to force
    return of the planes to the government.
    The plane that crashed in the Sierra has a history similar to
    the nearly two dozen others the contractors secured from the
    government under the exchange program - including seven to Hawkins
    & Powers.
    Like the others, this C-130A frequently changed hands among the
    contractors and others, through sublease arrangements in some cases
    and outright sales with title transfers in others. There were
    allegations that the repeated title transfers were an attempt to
    avoid Forest Service restrictions by hiding them in a cloud of
    paper.
    For example, contractor T&G Aviation maintained when it was
    caught with two of the planes in Kuwait that it did not think it
    was subject to restrictions because it did not receive the planes
    from the Forest Service but from Reagan, then a private aircraft
    broker.
    The Justice Department's amended criminal complaint filed
    against Reagan and Fuchs in U.S. District Court in Tucson Oct. 31,
    1996, said Hawkins & Powers and the other four contractors "used
    the aircraft for other than intended or authorized purposes and
    sold some of the aircraft parts for profit."
    The contractors were named only as unindicted co-conspirators.
    No charges were brought against them.
    Reagan served 20 months of a 30-month prison sentence and Fuchs
    served his two-year sentence before the 9th Circuit Court of
    Appeals overturned their convictions in a 2-1 ruling in July 2000,
    ruling the sentencing judge failed to give proper jury instructions
    on the statue of limitations.

    (Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)
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  7. #7
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    SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) - As it swooped over a burning
    California forest last June, the C-130A airtanker owned by Hawkins
    & Powers Aviation Inc. wobbled slightly. Then its wings snapped
    off, sending it plunging into the ground, killing its three-member
    crew.
    The crash, caught by a television crew and broadcast worldwide,
    was not the first involving a Hawkins & Powers plane, and it
    wouldn't be the last. One month later, a company plane fighting a
    Colorado fire also lost a wing in mid-flight, killing its two
    crewmen.
    Now, an Associated Press review of public records shows the
    Greybull, Wyo.-based company had wings snap off two other planes in
    1987 and 1979. A fifth plane previously owned by the company
    crashed in 1994, also in a wing failure.
    On Friday, the government permanently ended the firefighting use
    of all surviving C-130s and PB4Y-2s of the sort that crashed
    northwest of Denver, saying contractors could not guarantee the
    safety of the aircraft.
    The decision came as one result of a review of the nation's
    entire aerial wildland firefighting program ordered after this
    summer's crashes. Investigators also reopened their probe of the
    fatal 1994 crash, which they said might have provided lessons that
    would have prevented this summer's C-130 crash.
    The C-130s were pressed into service as a direct result of
    Hawkins & Powers' two earlier mid-air wing separations. The Forest
    Service banned the use of C-119s, known as Flying Boxcars, for
    firefighting in October 1987 after the second of the company's two
    airtankers broke apart in mid-flight over northern California,
    killing three crew members. The C-130 was the C-119's replacement.
    Hawkins & Powers co-owner Duane Powers said the company did all
    it could to find the hidden cracks that downed the company's planes
    last summer.
    "People need to know that Hawkins & Powers is one of the top
    safety companies that does this work around the world," Powers
    said.
    Safety problems with the nation's aging aerial airtanker fleet
    could have a dramatic effect on firefighting, even as decades of
    accumulated fuel in tinder-dry forests have prompted surges in
    wildfires and flight hours.
    Friday's groundings of 11 C-130s and PB4Y-2s eliminated a
    quarter of the nation's 44 airtanker fleet, and will force more
    reliance on helicopters and military aircraft, said aviation
    officials for the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land
    Management.

    Pilots may have to stop swooping into canyons and performing
    other high-stress maneuvers with the remaining older aircraft,
    warned Associated Airtanker Pilots Chairman Robert Wofford. That
    could force more drops from higher altitudes - a safer but less
    efficient tactic.
    Because government contracts go to the lowest bidder, there's
    great financial pressure to keep costs down, said airtanker pilots
    and the Aerial Firefighting Industry Association. And because
    government contract specifications require neither the most
    sophisticated technology nor the most sophisticated maintenance
    procedures, those are areas where money can be saved.
    That was echoed in Friday's report as well. The co-chairman of
    the special committee reviewing last summer's fatalities says
    airtankers working for the federal government also should be
    equipped with cockpit and flight data recorders, as are commercial
    aircraft. But no such recorders are required.
    "The federal government should not have a double standard when
    it comes to safety," said Jim Hall, who coincidentally was
    chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board during the
    investigation of the 1994 crash. Had those recorders been in place
    in 1994, it might have helped prevent this summer's C-130 crash,
    Hall said.
    Government contracts also don't require maintenance using the
    most sophisticated tests that are available to check for cracking
    or weakened metal.
    Such tests are "a hell of a lot cheaper than having one crash
    on you. But if you're bidding for nickels and dimes you're going to
    have to have the Forest Service require it to level the playing
    field," said Walt Darran, safety committee chairman for the
    Associated Airtanker Pilots and the California Fire Pilots
    Association.
    No one has accused Hawkins & Powers of failing to meet contract
    specs for maintenance, and Powers denied cutting any corners. He
    said the company exceeded federal requirements in checking for wing
    cracks - but couldn't find cracks hidden under overlying sheets of
    metal.
    "Routine inspection procedures were in place, but not
    extraordinary inspection procedures," he said in an interview.
    "They (the cracks) were in areas that were hidden and undetectable
    under the procedures that the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration)
    and (the Department of the) Interior required."
    During the investigation, Vice President Gene Powers, Duane
    Powers' father, said the military has long known of wing problems
    on the Lockheed Hercules C-130A, but did not pass that word to
    contractors who use the cargo planes to drop fire-retardant slurry
    on wildfires.
    But an FAA document obtained by The Associated Press shows the
    company told the agency that the C-130A that crashed this summer
    was repaired in April 1998 for cracks in one wing.
    Also, an NTSB report in September said "many of the same
    inspection and maintenance issues seen in the most recent C-130A
    and P-4Y accident investigations" were supposed to be eliminated
    by regulations required when C-130s were cleared for airtanker duty
    nearly a decade ago.
    The Interior Department initially banned the C-130s for
    firefighting use in 1993 because of inspection and maintenance
    problems, but relented after the FAA developed an "action plan"
    to make sure contractors performed proper inspections and
    maintenance.'
    Despite those improved procedures, the NTSB said it found
    fatigue cracks in the wings of both the Hawkins & Powers'
    46-year-old C-130A that crashed near Walker, Calif., in June, and
    the 57-year-old PB4Y-2 airtanker that crashed near Estes Park,
    Colo., in July. Wings snapped off both aircraft during retardant
    drops.
    "We've only got so many safety dollars and so many mechanic
    dollars," said Gene Powers. Though his son denied money was a
    consideration in inspections and maintenance, the elder Powers told
    Hall's panel that, "Safety costs money. That is all there is to
    it. And if you deprive somebody of the proper funds, he has to
    start allocating his dollars."
    The Forest Service ban on use of C-119s for firefighting came
    after a second Hawkins & Powers' Fairchild C-119 airtanker broke
    apart in mid-flight over northern California, killing three crew
    members in September 1987.
    That was eight years after two Hawkins & Powers crewmen died
    when a wing failed on their C-119 during a retardant drop over
    Southern California in June 1979. A third C-119, operated by Hemet
    Valley Flying Service and formerly owned by Hawkins & Powers,
    crashed in 1981.
    As a result, Hawkins & Powers and four other contractors needed
    a new airtanker to replace their grounded C-119s. They got 20
    military surplus C-130 Lockheed Hercules cargo planes - including
    the airtanker that crashed in 1994 and the plane that crashed this
    summer.
    "The new airplanes they brought in turned out to have the same
    sort of problems as the old airplanes," Duane Powers said.
    ---
    On the Net:
    Hawkins & Powers: http://www.hawkinsandpowers.com
    National Interagency Fire Center: http://www.nifc.gov
    Associated Airtanker Pilots www.airtanker.com
    Aerial Firefighting Industry Association: http://www.afia.com
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    Post

    RENO, Nev. (AP) - An independent panel's "scathing rebuke" of
    the Forest Service's aerial firefighting fleet underscores the need
    for an overdue review of the nation's overall wildland firefighting
    effort, Rep. Jim Gibbons said.
    "I think we are going to have to have a complete top-to-bottom
    review of how we allocate dollars to fight fires," the Nevada
    Republican said Monday.
    "We are not going to let this go quietly into the night. We are
    going to continue to press this issue," he said.
    Gibbons was among those who urged the Forest Service to
    investigate its aerial program after a C-130A airtanker crashed in
    the Sierra in June, killing all three crew members. A month later,
    another airtanker owned by the same contractor, Hawkins & Powers
    Aviation Inc. of Wyoming, sent two crew members to their death
    while fighting a fire in Colorado.
    "You cannot blame the families of these men for being outraged.
    They have a right to be upset," Gibbons said Monday.
    The agency's blue ribbon panel issued a report Friday citing
    numerous safety concerns and the Forest Service responded by
    permanently grounding 11 aircraft and temporarily grounding many
    others pending a safety review.
    One expert told the panel "from an engineering perspective,
    there is no assurance that any of the old military aircraft
    currently in operation are safe to fly as airtankers. ...
    "In the panel's view, the fatal airtanker crashes this year
    were predictable," the report said.
    Gibbons, a former combat pilot in the Vietnam and Persian Gulf
    wars who has flown C-130s, said on Friday he found the report to be
    "a blistering indictment" of the program with "safety
    deficiencies at virtually every level of the program's operation.
    "Beyond the mere safety issues of the aircraft and those who
    fly them, the report contends that the aerial firefighting program
    does not effectively and efficiently do what it is supposed to do -
    fight fires," he said.
    Upon further review, Gibbons said Monday he was surprised by the
    amount of work the panel was able to complete since it was created
    in August.
    "I did not expect the degree of clarity of the problem to be
    outlined in such a short investigation," Gibbons said.
    "This report is literally a scathing rebuke of the aerial
    firefighting problems within the U.S. government and private
    contractors. If they could find so many problems within such a
    short period of time, we are going to have a long row to hoe to get
    the program working efficiently and effectively," he said.
    "We in Congress are going to have to look very seriously at the
    funding and how we allocate various resources to agencies like the
    Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management," he said.
    Federal agencies have spent an estimated $1.4 billion to fight
    fires that burned about 6.7 million acres this year. Gibbons said
    all indications are that big fire years will continue in the near
    future.
    "For far too long, the nation's aerial firefighting program has
    been treated as a financial stepchild," he said.
    "The entire program is underfunded. It is shortsighted,
    penny-wise and pound foolish."

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    Post Monday- 12/16 update

    RENO, Nev. (AP) - The head of a pilots' group and a Forest
    Service aviation official agreed Monday with many of the
    conclusions offered by a panel that criticized the lack of safety
    standards for U.S. firefighting aircraft.
    Members of the Association of Airtanker Pilots meeting at their
    annual convention said they're committed to changes that will make
    their job safer. But they warned it will require a major investment
    from Congress to follow the recommendations of a blue ribbon panel
    formed after six crew members were killed in two airtanker crashes
    this summer.
    "We all have always taken safety very seriously. It's just that
    now with the tragic loss of two crews this year, we've really had
    our nose rubbed in it," said Bob Wofford, the group's chairman and
    a longtime airtanker pilot for one of the Forest Service's
    firefighting contractors, Neptune Aviation Services of Missoula,
    Mont.
    "The blue ribbon panel just made it apparent we finally have to
    wake up to our problems," he said. "If we can't maintain these
    planes safely, none of us has any business being in them."
    Kathy Allred, fixed-wing aviation specialist for the National
    Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho, told the 150 pilots and
    others at the conference at a Reno hotel-casino that they should
    read the panel's report carefully.
    "Some of it is a little inaccurate but for the most part, they
    got it right," she said. "It will be a challenge to say the
    least. We're going to need some help from people with money in
    Washington D.C."
    "It's going to be a tough few months but we'll get through it
    and we'll have airtankers flying again," she said. She said the
    Federal Aviation Administration has agreed to help the Forest
    Service develop a maintenance inspection program.
    The pilots gathered two weeks after the blue ribbon panel issued
    its report and the Forest Service announced it was permanently
    grounding all C-130A airtankers and temporarily grounding other
    tankers until inspections have ensured their airworthiness.
    Wofford said he doubts many of the grounded planes will be
    cleared to fly before May or June - long after the fire season has
    begun in the Southeast and Southwest United States.
    "Our industry is in a tremendous amount of turmoil right now.
    We don't really know what's going to happen," he said in an
    interview.
    The blue ribbon panel said safety standards for the contract
    pilots and crew flying firefighting missions are lower than for
    those flying other government missions, and the government does not
    impose special standards upon private contractors to reflect the
    severe conditions in which the aircraft are flown. It also said
    training is inadequate.
    The National Transportation Safety Board said in September that
    fatigue cracks in the wings of both planes caused the wings to
    shear off before this summer's crashes.
    An NTSB investigator told the pilots group in a speech Monday
    that cockpit recorders - like those in commercial aircraft - should
    be required for firefighting aircraft.
    "We really need recorders. We need to know what the airplanes
    are going through at different times," said George Petterson, who
    led the probe of the C130-A crash in the Sierra that killed all
    three on board in June. "Hopefully the steps resulting from the
    blue ribbon panel and the accident investigation will save lives."
    Some pilots suggested doing away with a flight-based pay system
    that encourages them to fly even when the plane is in less than
    perfect condition or when fire or weather conditions are too
    dangerous.
    Wofford said it's controversial with pilots but that he thinks
    the federal government should follow the lead of California and go
    to daily pay schedules that compensate pilots regardless of the
    number of flights.
    "Those of us in the business want to do a good job and want to
    do it safety. But sometimes judgment is clouded if we lose the
    flight pay," said Wofford, who started flying airtankers in 1973.
    "You look at the maintenance and maybe its not perfect or maybe
    the conditions are not just right, but you need that $150 an hour
    so you still do it."
    Wofford said the blue ribbon panel "pointed a pretty heavy
    finger at the Forest Service.
    "But it also implied that maintenance is not up to standards
    and that's partially due to funding. The Forest Service was forced
    to acknowledge these planes do need more attention. They will have
    to dig down deep in the budget. I think they will. They have no
    choice," he said.
    "There is no reason these planes cannot be safe with the proper
    inspections and maintenance."

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    Unhappy

    RENO, Nev. (AP) - Fatigue cracks in the wings and a sudden blast
    of wind, not pilot error, likely caused the fatal crash of a C-130A
    airtanker in the Sierra in June, an investigator said.
    "According to the analysis of the video, the plane was on
    speed. They were basically ... within the appropriate numbers - the
    range the plane was designed to operate in," said George
    Petterson, lead investigator for the National Transportation Safety
    Board.
    A final report should be completed in about the next month on
    the airtanker that crashed fighting a fire about 70 miles south of
    Reno near Walker, Calif., and killed all three crew members, he
    said.
    Like the Forest Service's blue ribbon panel found with the
    firefighting fleet in general, maintenance of the C-130A was not up
    to acceptable standards, Petterson said.
    "The plane was being maintained under a program designed 25
    years ago that did not take into account the age of the plane or
    the profile of the work it was doing - the tough missions," he
    said.
    The contractor, Hawkins & Powers Aviation Inc. of Greybull,
    Wyo., did inspect the wings for cracks on occasion, he said.
    "But it was not up to the 21st century. It was pretty much all
    visual inspections they were doing while some of the higher tech
    provisions today include X-rays and ultrasound."
    Petterson said a videotape of the crash shot by a television
    news crew showed evidence of columns of rising winds. He said he
    located a couple living in a trailer nearby who reported a strong
    blast of wind about the same time the airtanker crashed.

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    Default CIA .....CYA

    AP-NV--Airtankers-CIA

    Airtanker in Sierra crash flew for CIA; flight documents missing

    (Reno, Nev.-AP) -- A federal investigator says the probe of a
    firefighting tanker crash in the Sierra this summer has been
    hampered by missing records - partly because the C-130A flew spy
    missions for the CIA.
    George Petterson is an air safety investigator for the National
    Transportation Safety Board.
    He tells The Associated Press the plane at one point was set up
    for electronic surveillance for use in C-I-A activity somewhere in
    the world.
    Records are hard to come by.
    As a result, the N-T-S-B cannot determine the flight history of
    the ex-Air Force cargo plane built by Lockheed in 1956.
    The aircraft was used in fighting a wildland fire in June near
    Walker, California. The wings of the plane snapped off, sending all
    three crew members to their death.
    Petterson says the Air Force modified many of its C-130As with
    new wing parts in the early- to mid-1980s, but he can't tell
    whether the crashed plane was one of them.
    He adds the Air Force indicated the records of the wing
    modifications have been destroyed.

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    Post More CIA

    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?"'

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    Post Findings

    Forest Service says fatigue caused wing to fall off air tanker

    (Washington-AP) -- An air tanker that crashed while fighting a
    Colorado forest fire last year went down because of a crack that
    started at a rivet on its left wing and spread.
    That's according to a Forest Service investigation obtained by
    The Associated Press.
    The July 18 crash killed pilot Rick Schwartz of Ulm, Montana and
    co-pilot Milton Stollak of Cathedral City, California. The two men
    had a combined ten-thousand hours of flight time.
    Dan Hawkins is president of Hawkins and Powers Aviation of
    Greybull, Wyoming. He says the failure was almost identical to the
    one that caused the crash of another tanker fighting a fire in
    California a month earlier, killing three.
    Hawkins and Powers owned both planes.
    The Forest Service report said to inspect the area where the
    crack started would have required removing the retardant tanks and
    using a mirror and flashlight to get a glimpse of the rivet.

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    Post More Re: Tanker

    WASHINGTON (AP) - An air tanker that erupted in flames and
    plunged to the ground fighting a Colorado forest fire last year
    went down because of a crack that started at a half-inch rivet on
    its left wing and spread, according to a Forest Service
    investigation.
    It was almost identical to the failure that caused the crash of
    another tanker fighting a fire in California a month earlier,
    killing three, said Dan Hawkins, president of Hawkins & Powers
    Aviation Inc. of Greybull, Wyo., which owned both planes.
    The Forest Service report obtained Tuesday by The Associated
    Press identified the cause of the Consolidated Volte PB4Y-2 crash
    as fatigue and failure of the left wing's forward spar, a unit that
    helps hold the wing to the fuselage.
    The crash killed pilot Rick Schwartz of Ulm, Mont., and co-pilot
    Milton Stollak of Cathedral City, Calif., who had a combined 10,000
    hours of flight time, including more than 1,750 in the PB4Y. The
    plane crashed July 18 while fighting a wildfire in rugged foothills
    near Rocky Mountain National Park, about 40 miles northwest of
    Denver.
    After the crashes, the remaining PB4Ys and the Lockheed C-130As
    were grounded and this year the Forest Service has not renewed the
    contracts for either model of plane, believing they pose an
    unacceptable risk.
    Both planes were old - the PB4Y was 57 years old and the C-130A
    was 44 years - and they had been flown long hours in brutal
    conditions during last year's severe fire season.
    The Forest Service report was obtained under the Freedom of
    Information Act. Reports by the National Transportation Safety
    Board and Federal Aviation Administration have not yet been
    released. Last September, the NTSB said fatigue cracks caused the
    wings to shear off both planes.
    Inspecting the forward spar that failed would require removing
    the retardant tanks and using a mirror and flashlight to even be
    able to get a glimpse of the rivet that inspectors pinpointed as
    the origin of the crack, investigators said.
    The PB4Y had passed inspections in February and undergone
    maintenance and repairs throughout the year. "It had passed all
    the checks that they asked that we do on them and we maintain them
    consistently," Hawkins said. "You've got to go in deeper than
    anything that was ever talked about before."
    Hawkins' engineers have proposed a fix for the PB4Y that has
    been approved by the FAA and he would like the Forest Service to
    use the planes in the upcoming fire season.
    ---
    On the Net:
    Forest Service: http://www.fs.fed.us
    Hawkins & Powers: http://www.hawkinsandpowers.com

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    CARSON CITY, Nev. (AP) - More than a year after three airtanker
    crew members died fighting the Cannon fire in Walker, Calif., the
    Forest Service still has not named a culprit.
    Speculation on the cause involves U.S. Marine Corps wilderness
    training, but no charges have been filed by the U.S. Attorney's
    office, the Nevada Appeal reported in Sunday's editions.
    The Forest Service said in a statement Friday that the fire
    remained under investigation. It said no problems have been found
    in the Forest Service's fire suppression preparedness and initial
    attack, communication between air and ground personnel, tactical
    use of air tankers or fire team transition.
    In February, the Forest Service sent the Marines a $10 million
    bill for costs to extinguish the more than 23,000-acre Sierra
    Nevada wildfire and referred the matter to the Justice Department.
    The Cannon Fire started June 15, 2002, on the Bridgeport Ranger
    District of the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest.
    Pilot Steve Wass, co-pilot Craig LaBare and flight engineer Mike
    Davis were killed June 17, 2002, when the wings broke off the plane
    while they were trying to make a retardant drop.
    The Forest Service Review Team's findings confirm that "no
    obvious problems occurred with air-to-ground communications during
    the fire.
    "Air tanker use was appropriate for structure protection in
    Walker due to extreme fire behavior, low fuel-moisture conditions,
    weather predictions, and terrain and fire team transition during
    the fire's initial phases responsibly recognized and responded to
    the fire's changing conditions."
    Forest Supervisor Robert Vaught said the firefighters "are to
    be commended for responsibly considering safety first and foremost
    in their tactical fire-line planning and actions,"
    The review team's findings were released to forest officials in
    May and Vaught said the findings have been helpful in making
    changes to this year's fire suppression efforts.
    He said fire restrictions were implemented last month,
    additional fire severity funding to provide overtime pay and allow
    firefighters to order needed equipment was requested and received,
    stations are being staffed seven days a week rather than five and
    extra patrols over the holiday weekend are in place.

    (Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)
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    Inspections stricter, but air tankers just getting older
    coderrw
    DENVER (AP) - More than a year after a scathing report called
    for major changes in the nation's fleet of air tankers, the average
    age in the fleet that will fight this summer's fires is 50 years.
    And there still is no firm plan on how to replace them, though
    inspections will be much stricter.
    Nine planes such as the ones involved in catastrophic crashes in
    Colorado and California in the summer of 2002 are gone, grounded
    permanently, but the 35 others that will take to the air this year
    are, on average, a half-century old.
    And nobody's sure whether the U.S. Forest Service's goal of a
    more modern, turbine-powered fleet by 2008 can be met.
    "I don't know," Bill Broadwell, head of the Aerial
    Firefighting Industry Association, said when asked if the goal was
    feasible.
    It's a frustrating situation for those in the industry.
    "Things seem to have disappeared into a very dark, smoky
    hole," said Walt Darran, a California tanker pilot. "We can't
    figure out what's going on, and we're constantly getting the same
    story - 'We're short on budget, we're understaffed, we'd like to do
    it but we just can't.' "
    "The money is the issue - absolutely the money is the issue,"
    said Matt Ziomek, owner of Aero Flight Inc. of Kingman, Ariz.
    "We're all looking at ways to see how we could find the money to
    do it. There's enough money in there now to just keep what you have
    going."
    The big bombers, some of which can haul and drop as much as
    3,000 gallons of fire-retardant slurry on a blaze, make up less
    than 10 percent of the federal government's aerial firefighting
    fleet, which also includes more than 400 helicopters, smaller
    single-engine tankers, and lead planes.
    But the big bombers have come to symbolize to the public that a
    wildfire is being fought vigorously.

    (Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)
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    Unhappy Rest in Peace Brothers....

    NTSB: Crack in wing support caused fatal 2002 crash
    colonflsdmz
    LONGMONT, Colo. (AP) - An 18-inch crack in a wing support caused
    the fatal crash of a World War II-era plane fighting a 2002
    wildfire in northern Colorado, federal safety inspectors say.
    The privately owned PB4Y-2 crashed July 18, 2002, while lining
    up for a retardant drop on the 4,413-acre fire near Pinewood
    Springs. The 47-year-old plane broke apart and burst into flames,
    killing pilots Rick Schwartz of Ulm, Mont., and Milton Stollak of
    Cathedral City, Calif.
    The National Transportation Safety Board report confirmed a
    similar conclusion reached last year by the Forest Service.
    The plane was owned by Hawkins & Powers Aviation Inc., of
    Greybull, Wyo.
    "There was an 18-inch crack in the wing spar that caused the
    wing to finally let go. Those are the facts," said David Bowling,
    the regional director of the NTSB and the lead crash investigator.
    Wing spars are the structural skeleton that support the outer
    metal skin of the wing. The wings also contained the plane's fuel
    tanks, which blocked the view of the crack, investigators said.
    Following the crash and the fatal crash a month earlier of a
    similar firefighting C-130A in California, the Forest Service
    grounded those types of planes. That grounding affected 11 planes,
    or 25 percent of the fleet.
    Earlier, NTSB investigators said mechanical failure probably
    caused a helicopter crash during the same fire that killed pilot
    Gordon Knight, 52 of Boulder.

    (Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)
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    TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) - Arizona should have enough aircraft this
    year to help the firefighters who will be battling summer
    wildfires, officials say.
    Tanker crashes in 2002 prompted the grounding of many planes and
    left local fire managers worried that they would be deprived of a
    crucial tool for corralling blazes in rugged, remote terrain.
    Some current and former firefighters thought last year's Aspen
    fire might have been stopped before it swept through Summerhaven,
    destroying much of the vacation hamlet, had more tankers been
    available to shower rust-colored retardant and slow the flames'
    advance.
    "Our heavy air tankers are going to be delivered on schedule,"
    said Dean McAlister, fire and aviation program manager for the
    Coronado National Forest. "We're looking at pretty much our normal
    contingent of aerial resources."
    As the summer fire season approaches, the nation's fire managers
    will have 33 commercial tankers to call upon and five spares, said
    Bill Broadwell, executive director of the Aerial Firefighting
    Industry Association that represents the private contractors paid
    to fight fires.
    That's in line with the recommendations of a study in the
    mid-1990s that said 30 to 35 tankers would be needed in a normal
    fire season, he said.

    "We're as ready as we can be for the fire season," he said.
    This year, the Coronado National Forest expects two air tankers
    to be delivered to Fort Huachuca's Libby Army Airfield on time,
    with one arriving in mid-May and the other around June 1.
    There are already two helicopters on duty - one in Tucson, the
    other in Portal, northeast of Douglas.
    The pair of big tankers, although based in southern Arizona, may
    be shifted elsewhere as fires break out.
    "They go where they're needed," said Venetia Gempler, a
    spokeswoman for the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise,
    Idaho.
    ---
    On the Net:
    http://www.nifc.gov
    ---
    Information from: Arizona Daily Star, http://www.azstarnet.com

    (Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)
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  19. #19
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    WASHINGTON (AP) - Federal forest officials said Tuesday they
    will rely on military planes, along with other, smaller aircraft,
    to fight forest fires after grounding large air tankers this week
    because of safety concerns.
    Firefighting agencies will use as many as eight military C-130
    planes along with water-carrying helicopters and fixed-wing planes
    akin to crop-dusters, officials said.
    It will cost anywhere from $26 million to $40 million to replace
    the big tankers, including costs to terminate the existing
    contracts, which had been signed though the 2004 fire season, said
    Mark Rey, the Agriculture undersecretary who directs forest policy.
    "We will not be short-handed. We will have to stretch to
    reconfigure, but we should be just fine," Rey told the Senate
    Energy and Natural Resources Committee on Tuesday.
    Some lawmakers were unconvinced.
    "I seriously doubt your agency will able to fight fires
    effectively and efficiently," said Sen. Jim Bunning, R-Ky.
    "I don't think there is any question that we are obviously
    facing a tough year," said Sen. Craig Thomas, R-Wyo. "If you
    reduce your ability to fight fires, you are going to have a
    problem."
    Sen. Conrad Burns, R-Mont., said he worried that tanker
    companies with good safety records, such as Montana-based Neptune
    Aviation Services, were being "punished for the safety missteps of
    others."
    Rey denied that and said officials grounded the tankers after
    concluding they did not have enough expertise to ensure that the
    privately owned planes were safe to fly.
    "To continue to use these large air tankers when no mechanism
    exists to ensure their airworthiness presents an unacceptable level
    of risk to aviators, the firefighters on the ground and the
    communities that we serve," Rey said.
    The head of an association that represents air tanker companies
    said officials were condemning companies throughout the West to
    bankruptcy. Aircraft contractors are located in Arizona,
    California, Montana, Nevada and Wyoming, with subsidiaries in
    several other states.
    "I just feel they've walked away from this whole issue and not
    properly addressed it," said Bill Broadwell, executive director of
    the Aerial Firefighting Industry Association. "They could have
    done better."
    The 33 large, fixed-wing tankers - each of which can drop as
    much as 3,000 gallons of fire-retardant slurry on a blaze - make up
    less than 10 percent of the aerial firefighting fleet, which also
    includes more than 400 helicopters, smaller single-engine tankers
    and lead planes.
    The big "fire bombers," though, have come to symbolize to the
    public that a wildfire is being fought vigorously.
    That image suffered in recent years, as three planes crashed
    between 1994 and 2002, killing seven crew members. After two planes
    went down in 2002, the Forest Service grounded the tanker fleet.
    The planes were returned to service after a new inspection system
    was developed.
    But last month, the National Transportation Safety Board said
    the safety and airworthiness of the fleet still could not be
    assured. The agency said information on the stresses that the
    planes underwent in fighting fires was incomplete, and there were
    gaps in maintenance and inspection records dating back to the
    planes' military use. The planes' average age is nearly 50 years,
    and some are as old as 60 years.
    Broadwell, the industry representative, questioned how federal
    officials could be confident that smaller aircraft can safely fight
    fires.
    "If they don't have the expertise to manage large air tankers,
    what gives them expertise to manage helicopters or single-engine
    air tankers?" he asked.
    ---
    On the Net:
    National Interagency Fire Center: http://www.nifc.gov
    Aerial Firefighting Industry Association: http://www.afia.com

    (Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)
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  20. #20
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    National Transportation Safety Board
    Washington, DC 20594

    June 22, 2004

    ****************************** ******************************

    UPDATE ON NTSB INVESTIGATION INTO
    CRASH OF FIREFIGHTING PLANE IN UTAH

    ****************************** ******************************

    On June 17, 2004, at 5:47 p.m., a PZL-Mielec M-18 Dromader
    airplane, N8214J, impacted terrain while maneuvering during
    firefighting operations and was destroyed near St. George, Utah.
    During the accident flight, the single engine airplane was under
    the operational control of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM),
    U.S. Department of Interior (DOI). The airplane was being operated
    with a restricted category Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)
    airworthiness certificate. The purpose of the public-use flight was
    to release a fire retardant over a wildland fire.

    The airplane experienced a post-crash fire, and the
    commercial pilot, a non-government employee, was fatally injured.
    Visual meteorological conditions prevailed, and a Bureau-approved
    flight plan had been filed for the local area flight that
    originated from St. George about 5:30 p.m.

    Ground and airborne eyewitnesses reported that the
    airplane had just completed a fire retardant drop while flying less
    than 100 feet above downsloping terrain. Immediately following the
    drop, the airplane pitched down and descended steeply into wooded
    terrain. The pilot did not report any problems prior to the
    accident.

    According to BLM representatives, the pilot had about
    21,000 hours of experience, mostly in crop dusting. He had about
    35 hours in the Dromader M-18, of which about 25 hours were flown
    during simulated and operational firefighting operations during
    last year's fire season. The pilot also received three hours of
    additional training by BLM recently in Safford, Arizona. The
    accident flight was the pilot's third or fourth fire retardant drop
    of the day. He had completed two drops on the day before the
    accident. The accident pilot was a relief pilot; the primary
    pilot, who had flown the accident airplane for three years, did not
    report any problems with the airplane prior to the accident.

    According to witnesses, the accident pilot performed two
    dry runs over the intended area of drop before releasing the
    retardant on the third pass. During the accident drop run, the
    pilot released the retardant earlier than desired, and was off
    course.

    Safety Board interviews with Dromader pilots engaged in
    air tanker operations indicate that some of the pilots were flying
    the drop run at an airspeed that was slower than the recommended
    airspeed for a fire retardant drop. As a result of this
    discrepancy, the National Program Manager for the U.S. single- engine air tanker fleet temporarily halted operation of all 26
    contracted Dromader M-18 airplanes for 2 days so that pilots could
    refamiliarize themselves with the operational specifications of the
    airplane. This "safety stand down" was lifted on Monday morning,
    June 21, and the Dromader pilots are now continuing firefighting
    operations. Eight of the 26 Dromaders are turbine powered, and the
    rest are powered by radial engines (the accident airplane was
    powered by a radial engine). The Dromaders make up about one-third
    of the federal single-engine air tanker fleet of 79 airplanes.

    A team of NTSB, FAA, DOI, and BLM investigators examined
    the accident site and wreckage one day after the accident.
    Physical evidence at the site indicates that it impacted the ground
    in a near vertical, nose-down attitude. No evidence of an inflight
    structural failure, flight control discrepancy, or obvious
    catastrophic engine failure was noted at the site. The wreckage
    has been recovered and will be examined in detail in Phoenix,
    Arizona, by a team of Safety Board investigators later this week.
    The airplane maintenance records were on board the airplane at the
    time of the accident and were destroyed in the post-crash fire.
    Howard Plagens is the Investigator-in-Charge of this accident, and
    the NTSB accident number is LAX04GA243.

    This accident is the third fatal accident involving a
    Dromader M-18 air tanker in the past 3 months. All three airplanes
    were owned by the Montana-based company New Frontier Aviation. The
    first accident occurred on March 16, 2004, near Safford, Arizona.
    The purpose of the public-use flight was to practice a simulated
    fire retardant drop. The airplane (N6259N) was destroyed, and the
    commercial pilot, a non-government employee, was fatally injured.
    Witnesses reported that the airplane was loaded with 400 gallons of
    water in preparation for the aerial drop. While turning left to
    the base leg, the airplane's engine was heard to "surge" two to
    three times. Witnesses stated that the airplane assumed an "unusual
    attitude" with "the right wing up and the nose down" until they
    lost sight of the airplane behind a small ridgeline. The
    Investigator-in-Charge is Wayne Pollack, and the NTSB accident
    number is LAX04TA161.

    The second accident occurred on May 22, 2004. The
    airplane, N117BS, was destroyed when it collided with mountainous
    terrain near Borah Peak, Idaho, in adverse weather conditions. The
    airplane was being operated as a visual flight rules (VFR) cross- country flight under the provisions of 14 CFR 91, when the accident
    occurred. At the time of the accident, the airplane was not being
    operated by the BLM, but was being positioned to a location where
    it would begin service for the BLM. The airline transport pilot- in-command was fatally injured in the accident. No flight plan was
    filed for the flight that originated from Dillon, Montana,
    approximately one hour and 15 minutes prior to the accident. The
    pilot's planned destination was Boise, Idaho. Dennis Hogenson is
    the Investigator-in-Charge of this accident, and the NTSB accident
    number is SEA04LA095.



    NTSB Media Contact: Ted Lopatkiewicz
    (202) 314-6100
    lopatt@ntsb.gov
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