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Thu, Apr 21, 2005

Firefighting Tanker Down In California

NTSB: All Three Aboard Were Lost

REAL TIME UPDATE 1907 EDT -- The Aero Union Corporation says one of the company’s P-3 Orion airtankers was lost on a routine training mission Wednesday night around 1900.  The aircraft and its three crewmembers went down in a remote area of Tehama County in the Ishi Wilderness of California.  

Search and rescue teams have reached the aircraft, which came down in the Brushy Mountain area, and confirmed that all three crewmembers died in the crash.  The pilots were identified as:

  • Captain Brian Bruns
  • Captain Paul Cockrell
  • The company's chief pilot, Captain Tom Lynch

"Our thoughts and prayers go with the families of our pilots," said Aero Union CEO Terry Unsworth.  "We all are grieving the loss of these brave men and our immediate concern is for their families."

The National Transportation Safety Board is expected to conduct a complete investigation of the cause of the accident.  "We will cooperate fully with the investigation, and have already been in contact with the NTSB", Unsworth said.

At approximately 1850 PDT Wednesday a Lockheed P-3B air tanker, N926AU, owned and operated by the Aero Union Corporation of Chico, California, crashed immediately following a fire retardant training drop near Chico. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed, according to a statement from the NTSB.

According to the company, the accident flight was the seventh flight of the day for that aircraft. The purpose of the flights was to conduct qualification checks for pilots who were scheduled to conduct firefighting operations during the upcoming fire season. The aircraft was manufactured in 1966 and was formerly operated by the United States Navy. It was powered by four Allison T56A11 turboprop engines.

Although search crews were flown to the site in a California Highway Patrol helicopter, the terrain was so steep and rugged that they had to be put on the ground some distance away from and hike in on foot. They were unable to get to the wreckage until early Thursday morning, according to local news reports.

"It's a fairly remote spot, and it took them a while to find a route in," said Leona Rodreick, a spokeswoman for the Lassen National Forest. "There are no roads or trails. They had to hike in two or three miles."

The crash sparked a two-acre fire.

Rodreick said the P-3 was not on a government contract mission at the time of the mishap.

Senior air safety investigator Georgia Struhsaker, from the NTSB's Seattle regional office, will lead the team as Investigator-in-Charge. She will be joined by four NTSB investigators, with assistance from representatives of the Federal Aviation Administration, Lockheed Aircraft Corporation, and the Aero Union Corporation. Rolls Royce (Allison) Engines will also be offered party status. NTSB Member Ellen Engleman Conners will accompany the team and serve as principal spokesperson for the on-scene investigation. Paul Schlamm is also accompanying the team as press officer.

The NTSB last year issued five recommendations (A-04-29 through 33) to the Department of Agriculture, the Department of Interior and the Federal Aviation Administration as a result of several accidents involving structural failure of firefighting aircraft (it is unknown at this time if yesterday's accident is related to structural failure).

The P-3 was one of seven Aero-Union aircraft among ten tankers accepted by the US Forest Service for use in fighting wildfires this season.



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