NTSB Identification: WPR15GA005
14 CFR Public Use
Accident occurred Tuesday, October 07, 2014 in El Portal, CA
Aircraft: MARSH AVIATION S 2F3AT, registration: N449DF
Injuries: 1 Fatal.
This is preliminary information, subject to change, and may contain errors. Any errors in this report will be corrected when the final report has been completed. : NTSB investigators either traveled in support of this investigation or conducted a significant amount of investigative work without any travel, and used data obtained from various sources to prepare this public aircraft accident report.
On October 7, 2014, about 1630 Pacific daylight time, a Marsh Aviation S-2F3AT airplane, N449DF, call sign tanker 81, was destroyed by impact with terrain and a postcrash fire while maneuvering in the Yosemite National Park, near El Portal, California. The airplane was registered to and operated by Cal Fire under contract to the National Parks Service, as a visual flight rules (VFR), public use aerial firefighting tanker. The airline transport pilot, the sole occupant, received fatal injuries. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed for the flight that departed Columbia Airport (O22), Columbia, California.
According to a Forest Service spokesman, the airplane was stationed at the airbase at Hollister, California, and had been dispatched to the Dog Rock fire. The airplane arrived on scene, and made one drop on the fire, then proceeded to the Columbia Airport to be reloaded with fire retardant.
During the aerial firefighting operations, in addition to the aerial tanker, 2 other aircraft were used; an orbiting aerial controller that coordinated aerial operations with ground units; and a "lead plane" that tracked ahead of the tanker to define the route and the drop initiation point.
Upon returning to the fire scene, the accident airplane had coordinated its next drop with the orbiting aerial coordinator, and was following the lead airplane. The crew of the lead airplane did not see the accident. The crew of the controller airplane reported that the accident airplane may have struck a tree with its wing, which separated from the airplane. Both aircrews reported that there was smoke in the area, but visibility was good.
On October 9, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigator-in-charge and an additional NTSB investigator arrived on scene. Also on scene were representatives (investigators) of the U.S.D.A Office of Aviation Safety (OAS), National Parks Service (NPS), U.S Forest Service (USFS), and CAL FIRE.
California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection Geoffrey Craig Hunt was killed Tuesday when his plane crashed while battling a wildfire in Yosemite National Park.
The air tanker that went down while fighting a wildfire near Yosemite National Park this week, killing the pilot, did not appear to have mechanical issues, officials announced Friday.
The finding by National Transportation Safety Board investigators prompted state fire officials to lift an order that had grounded California's fleet of S-2T air tankers.
"We are comfortable to say that we don’t see anything that leads us to any mechanical issues," Josh Cawthra, an NTSB investigator, told reporters.
He added that his agency had concluded its on-scene investigation into the crash that killed veteran pilot Geoffrey "Craig" Hunt, but will have to wait until the Dog Rock fire is extinguished before the wreckage can be removed from the area.
The blaze has burned 245 acres at the edge of the park and is 10% contained, park officials said.
"It’s a very complex investigation. We essentially leave no stone unturned," Cawthra said.
The plane, an S-2T tanker that carries 1,200 gallons of fire retardant, crashed near El Portal inside Yosemite on Tuesday afternoon.
Hunt, a 13-year veteran, was alone in the plane and was making his second drop for the day when the crash occurred.
"This accident is extremely tragic," he said. "These pilots put their lives out there on the line."
Despite the delay in moving the plane, investigators can continue with other elements of the probe, including reviewing digital recordings associated with the flight. Investigators are expected to interview witnesses, examine radio communications, radar data and any video of the flight that may be out there, said NTSB spokesman Keith Holloway.
Because the plane was not a commercial airliner, it doesn’t have a black box, Holloway said, adding that nine of out 10 flight crashes the NTSB investigates don’t involve black boxes.
A preliminary report on the crash could be issued in the next five business days, officials said, with the final report taking as long as 18 months.
Meanwhile, Ken Pimlott, chief of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, said normal flight operations, as well as routine inspections, would be allowed to resume immediately.
Most pilots were eager to start flying again after the fleet was grounded right after the crash, but he said all had been urged to take whatever precautions they felt necessary before returning to the skies.
"We just want to make sure they are comfortable and they are ready," Pimlott said.
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