Fatal crash grounds wildfire aircraft

 

Critical firefighting aircraft have been grounded during one of the busiest and most destructive wildfire seasons to hit the US west after a military cargo plane crashed battling a South Dakota inferno.

The C-130 from an Air National Guard wing based in Charlotte, North Carolina, was carrying a crew of six and fighting a 6.5-square-mile blaze in the Black Hills when it crashed on Sunday, killing at least one crew member and injuring others.

President Barack Obama offered thoughts and prayers to the crew and their families, saying: “The men and women battling these terrible fires across the West put their lives on the line every day for their fellow Americans.”

Seven other US Air Force aircraft were grounded after the crash, slashing the number of large air tankers fighting this summer's outbreak of wildfires by a third.

The military put the seven C-130s on an “operational hold”, keeping them on the ground indefinitely. That left 14 federally-contracted heavy tankers in use until investigators gain a better understanding of what caused the crash.

“You've basically lopped off eight air tankers immediately from your inventory, and that's going to make it tougher to fight wildfires,” said Mike Archer, who distributes a daily newsletter of wildfire news.

“And who knows how long the planes will be down?”

Mr Obama signed a bill last month hastening the addition of seven large tanker planes to the nation's run-down aerial firefighting fleet, at a cost of 24 million dollars (£15.4m), but the first planes will not be available until mid-August.

C-130 air tankers have crashed on firefighting duty before. In 2002, a privately owned civilian version of an older-model C-130 crashed in California, killing three crew members. The plane broke up in flight and an investigation blamed fatigue cracks in the wings.

The crash, in part, prompted a review of the airworthiness of large US air tankers and led ultimately to a greatly reduced fleet of large civilian tanker planes. The 44 planes in the fleet a decade ago has dwindled to nine being flown on US Forest Service exclusive use contracts right now.

Another aerial firefighting plane, the Lockheed P2V, has had some problems in recent months. One crashed in Utah, killing the two pilots, and another one crash-landed in Nevada.

A military spokesman said he did not know when the grounded planes would resume firefighting flights. They were used to fight fires in Colorado, Wyoming, Montana and South Dakota.

The C-130s can be loaded with a device called the Modular Airborne Firefighting System, or MAFFS. The system can drop 3,000 gallons of water or fire retardant within seconds through a modified side door towards the rear of the plane.

The military planes had been filling up with fire retardant and flying out of Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs.

The US Forest Service, which owns the MAFFS devices and co-ordinates the programme with the military, backed the decision to stand down the MAFFS.

But as a result, the Forest Service now will have to prioritise fires and the resources allocated to fight them, said Jennifer Jones, a Forest Service spokeswoman at the National Interagency Fire Centre in Boise, Idaho.

Fires threatening human life will be a top priority, followed by those threatening communities and community infrastructure, other types of property, and finally natural and cultural resources, she said.

The plane that crashed was fighting a fire about 80 miles south west of Rapid City, South Dakota. The terrain of the crash site is “very, very rugged, straight up and straight down cliffs”, said Frank Maynard, the Fall River County emergency management director.

Military officials declined to say whether anyone was killed, but they confirmed there were some crew members who were being treated for serious injuries at a hospital in Rapid City.

The family of Lt Col. Paul Mikeal of Mooresville, North Carolina, said they were told early yesterday that he had died in the crash They said he was a 42-year-old married father of two and a veteran of deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan.

AP

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive or Senior Sales Executive - B2B Exhibitions

£18000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Executive or Senior Sal...

Recruitment Genius: Head of Support Services

£40000 - £55000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Warehouse Team Leader

£22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This industry leading company produces h...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Manager / Sales - OTE £40,000

£20000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT provider for the educat...

Day In a Page

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

BBC heads to the Californian coast

The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

Car hacking scandal

Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
10 best placemats

Take your seat: 10 best placemats

Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory
Ashes 2015: Alastair Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Aussie skipper Michael Clarke was lured into believing that what we witnessed at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge would continue in London, says Kevin Garside
Can Rafael Benitez get the best out of Gareth Bale at Real Madrid?

Can Benitez get the best out of Bale?

Back at the club he watched as a boy, the pressure is on Benitez to find a winning blend from Real's multiple talents. As La Liga begins, Pete Jenson asks if it will be enough to stop Barcelona
Athletics World Championships 2015: Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jessica Ennis-Hill and Katarina Johnson-Thompson heptathlon rivalry

Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jess and Kat rivalry

The last time the two British heptathletes competed, Ennis-Hill was on the way to Olympic gold and Johnson-Thompson was just a promising teenager. But a lot has happened in the following three years
Jeremy Corbyn: Joining a shrewd operator desperate for power as he visits the North East

Jeremy Corbyn interview: A shrewd operator desperate for power

His radical anti-austerity agenda has caught the imagination of the left and politically disaffected and set a staid Labour leadership election alight
Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief: Defender of ancient city's past was killed for protecting its future

Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief

Robert Fisk on the defender of the ancient city's past who was killed for protecting its future