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

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Sport
CSKA Moscow celebrate after equalising with a late penalty
football

Arts and Entertainment
music
Life and Style
tech

Company reveals $542m investment in start-up building 'a rocket ship for the mind'

News
Bourgogne wine maker Laboure-Roi vice president Thibault Garin (L) offers the company's 2013 Beaujolais Nouveau wine to the guest in the wine spa at the Hakone Yunessun spa resort facilities in Hakone town, Kanagawa prefecture, some 100-kilometre west of Tokyo
i100
Arts and Entertainment
James Blunt's debut album Back to Bedlam shot him to fame in 2004
music

Singer says the track was 'force-fed down people's throats'

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

IT Project Manager

Competitive: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Chelmsford a...

Business Intelligence Specialist - work from home

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and growing IT Consultancy fir...

Business Intelligence Specialist - work from home

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and growing IT Consultancy fir...

IT Manager

£40000 - £45000 per annum + pension, healthcare,25 days: Ashdown Group: An est...

Day In a Page

Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Let's talk about loss

We need to talk about loss

Secrecy and silence surround stillbirth
Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Women may be better suited to space travel than men are
Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

How to dress with authority

Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

Tim Minchin interview

For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album