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Heavy air tankers grounded in Utah following fatal crash

Published June 5, 2012 7:23 am

Crash • Two men in the plane died when it crashed near Nevada-Utah border.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

As a wildfire continued to rage in southern Utah and fire danger remained high, officials announced they had grounded the two remaining air tankers in southern Utah.

The announcement Monday afternoon came nearly 24 hours after a P-2V heavy air tanker carrying Capt. Todd Neal Tompkins, 48, and Ronnie Edwin Chambless, 40, fatally crashed in the area of the White Rock Fire about 22 miles west of Modena.

The private plane, which was contracted through Neptune Aviation Services, of Missoula, Mont., was dropping retardant on the fire about 2 p.m. Sunday.

An eyewitness told KUTV that moments before the plane crashed, it was flying very low, clipping the tops of trees.

Iron County Sheriff Mark Gower said Monday afternoon that it appeared that the right wing tip hit the ground, causing the plane to cartwheel. The plane was destroyed; the debris spread across a 500-to-600-foot area.

"You could see it was a very violent crash," Gower said.

The cause of the crash remained under investigation Monday. National Transportation Safety Board investigators were on the way to the remote and rugged crash site Monday afternoon.

Even as the two remaining planes remained grounded, the fire continued to burn, officials said. By Monday night, the fire had burned 8,000 acres across parts of Utah and Nevada. It wasn't known how long the planes would remain grounded or why officials had decided to do so.