Get breaking news alerts via email

Click here to manage your alerts
In this file photo from July 13, 2006, a P2-V Neptune air tanker drops retardant on a wildfire southwest of Elko, Nev. An air tanker dropping retardant on a remote wildfire along the Utah-Nevada line crashed Sunday, June 3, 2012, killing both crew members, authorities said. The pilots were flying a P-2V air tanker that is owned by Neptune Aviation Services of Missoula, Mont. (AP Photo/Elko Daily Free Press, Ross Andreson, file)
Report: Air tanker following lead plane when it veered into Utah mountain
First Published Jun 13 2012 09:35 am • Last Updated Jun 13 2012 04:38 pm

An air tanker dropping retardant on a southern Utah wildfire earlier this month veered off its flight path while following a lead plane moments before crashing into mountainous terrain, killing both pilots aboard, according to a preliminary federal report on the accident.

The National Transportation Safety Board found the Lockheed P2V-7 was on its second flight of the day dropping retardant when it followed another plane into a shallow valley less than a half-mile wide and 350 feet deep.

Join the Discussion
Post a Comment

"The lead airplane flew a shallow right-hand turn on to final, and dropped to an altitude of 150 feet above the valley floor over the intended drop area," the report released this week stated.

The P2V-7 then crashed into the mountains about 700 feet off the lead plane’s flight path, the report noted.

NTSB spokesman Keith Holloway said Wednesday the agency is still investigating the cause of the June 3 crash, including potential mechanical failure, pilot error and a probe into whether the plane’s deviation from the lead aircraft’s flight path may have been a contributing factor.

Complete findings likely won’t come for months. The preliminary report did not cite any causes.

Experts say a lead plane is typically used to guide the larger tanker into the drop zone above a blaze.

Tanker pilots are supposed to always keep the lead plane in sight, but that can be difficult in smoky conditions close the ground where wind can push the plane around, said Thomas Eversole, executive director of the American Helicopter Services & Aerial Firefighting Association.

"Generally, you won’t find anyone who deviates from that flight path unless they lose sight" of the lead plane, Eversole said. "If he loses sight of him, he could very well get himself into a position where he could be in a lot of danger.

"The wind from those fires does really crazy things," Eversole added. "It could have pushed him sideways just enough to get him off course, and if he lost sight of his lead plane, that could have been it."

story continues below
story continues below

Firefighters were battling a lightning-sparked wildfire that jumped the Nevada border about 150 miles northeast of Las Vegas when the crash occurred. Investigators said the plane was reduced to fragments upon impact. Two pilots from Boise, Idaho, were killed.

The crash renewed concerns about the nation’s aging firefighting aircraft fleet, along with the dwindling number of available planes just as the West enters what is expected to be a brutal season, and massive blazes burned in Colorado and New Mexico.

The U.S. Forest Service doesn’t own any of the firefighting aircraft, but instead contracts with private companies that have limited stocks. This week, the service announced it was increasing the national fleet to 17 available aircraft. And on Wednesday, President Barack Obama signed a bill aimed at speeding the contracting of the next generation of air tankers, eventually moving away from the aging fleet now available.

Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Top Reader Comments Read All Comments Post a Comment
Click here to read all comments   Click here to post a comment

About Reader Comments

Reader comments on sltrib.com are the opinions of the writer, not The Salt Lake Tribune. We will delete comments containing obscenities, personal attacks and inappropriate or offensive remarks. Flagrant or repeat violators will be banned. If you see an objectionable comment, please alert us by clicking the arrow on the upper right side of the comment and selecting "Flag comment as inappropriate". If you've recently registered with Disqus or aren't seeing your comments immediately, you may need to verify your email address. To do so, visit disqus.com/account.
See more about comments here.
Staying Connected
Contests and Promotions
  • Search Obituaries
  • Place an Obituary

  • Search Cars
  • Search Homes
  • Search Jobs
  • Search Marketplace
  • Search Legal Notices

  • Other Services
  • Advertise With Us
  • Subscribe to the Newspaper
  • Access your e-Edition
  • Frequently Asked Questions
  • Contact a newsroom staff member
  • Access the Trib Archives
  • Privacy Policy
  • Missing your paper? Need to place your paper on vacation hold? For this and any other subscription related needs, click here or call 801.204.6100.