Minden-based air tanker crashes in San Bernardino National Forest

REDLANDS, Calif. -- A firefighting air tanker crashed Friday in the San Bernardino National Forest, bursting into flames and killing both people aboard, authorities said.

The plane, contracted to the U.S. Forest Service, was flying from Prescott, Ariz., to San Bernardino when it went down around 11:30 a.m., about four miles outside of town, Donn Walker of the Federal Aviation Administration said.

The aircraft was a twin-engine P2-V, said Jedd Kinzie of the Sierra Front Interagency Dispatch Center in Minden, Nev.

The Lockheed-built planes, known as Neptunes, were manufactured in the 1940s and 1950s as intelligence-gathering and anti-submarine aircraft. Re-equipped as firefighters, they can haul some 2,700 gallons of fire retardant.

It was the eighth air tanker crash in the United States in the last decade, according to the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho. Sixteen people have died.

Wreckage was spotted in the foothills at about the 3,500-foot level, said Chip Patterson of the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department.

The remote, brushy area is 70 miles east of Los Angeles.

The crash started a 1Y-acre fire that was quickly doused, authorities said.

The tanker was one of two heading to the San Bernardino Air Tanker Base after firefighting duty in Arizona, said Matt Mathes, a Forest Service regional spokesman.

One plane landed safely but the other was reported 30 minutes overdue at about 12:30 p.m., he said.

The crash occurred about eight miles northeast of the airport, said Ruth Wenstrom, a San Bernardino National Forest spokeswoman.

There was fog around the base at the time, but it was unclear whether that overcast extended into the mountains, she said.

National Transportation Safety Board members were en route to the area to determine the cause of the crash.

The plane may have planned a refueling stop at the base, but it was not going to help with an 889-acre fire burning in the forest, Wenstrom said.

The blaze near Interstate 15 was 62 percent contained Friday. Other aircraft were being used to battle it, she said.

The plane was owned by Minden Aircorps, a private company based in Minden, Nev.

"It's one of our planes," said Len Parker, chief executive officer. "I just don't have any information at all at this point. I don't want to say anything until I learn more. We have never had an accident in the 14-year history of our company. We've had an excellent track record."

The plane, Tanker 99, was based in San Bernardino and left Prescott's airport shortly before 10 a.m., said Travis Haines, a spokesman for the Prescott National Forest:

The plane was sent to Utah on Sunday to help fight a fire across the Arizona border, on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. It was moved to Prescott on Monday to continue the work, which continued through Wednesday, Haines said.

The roughly 7,180-acre Poplar fire was started by lightning on Sept. 4. Fire management officials had been letting it burn but crews were brought in when it flared up around Sept. 22. Cooler weather helped keep the blaze from spreading earlier this week but there was no estimated containment date.

A June 2002 crash near Reno, Nev., killed a crew of three as they dropped fire retardant. The wings fell off the 1957 model C-130A as the tanker crashed in a fiery explosion. The moment was captured on videotape by a television crew working in the area.

The next month, a P4Y-2 air tanker crashed near Estes Park, Colo., after a wing snapped off during a retardant drop.

The nation's fleet of air tankers includes Orions, DC-4s, DC-6s, and DC-7s, and P-2V Neptunes, owned and flown by private companies under contract with the Forest Service. Tankers have been used by states and the military for firefighting. Many are retired military or commercial transport planes built decades ago.

The most recent crash occurred last year, when two tankers owned by Hawkins & Powers Aviation Inc. of Greybull, Wyo., crashed while fighting fires in Colorado and Nevada. Five crew members were killed.


Associated Press Writers Andrew Bridges in Los Angeles, Don Thompson in Sacramento, Ken Ritter in Las Vegas and Martin Griffith in Reno, Nev., contributed to this report.


Use the comment form below to begin a discussion about this content.

Sign in to comment