Minden pilot dies in Chico tanker crash
Pilot Brian Bruns, 45, of Minden, who died in an air tanker crash in remote Northern California mountains, was remembered Friday as a personable man who focused on his job.
“We would meet occasionally in the fire environment or he would drop by just to talk,” said Leonard Parker, owner of Minden Air Corp., based at the Minden-Tahoe Airport and a fellow pilot.
“He was a serious, competent individual who focused on his job and performed it to the best of his ability,” Parker said.
Bruns was killed Wednesday with two other pilots during a training flight about 30 miles northeast of the Chico, Calif., airport from where the crew departed, according to the Federal Aviation Administration.
Bruns, Paul Cockrell, 52, of Fresno; and Thomas Lynch, 41, of Redding, Calif., were aboard a P-3 Orion owned by Aero Union, a Chico-based company that provides fighting equipment.
The crash is under investigation.
Lynch was due in Minden Saturday, Parker said.
He was employed by the FAA as a check airman to test pilots’ instrument competency.
“I have known Tom very well over a long period of time,” Parker said. “He was truly, fundamentally a good man.”
Parker said the community of air tanker pilots is so small, every tragedy is personal.
“I’ve been flying more than 40 years, and it’s always a loss,” Parker said.
“It’s a small community and we all know each other. You never get used to it. It’s an unfortunate reality of life that in this business, operational losses do occur.”
Bruns is the second pilot from Minden to die in an air tanker crash.
Pilot Steve Wass died in June 2002 with two crew members in a tanker crash near Walker, Calif.
Minden-Tahoe Airport operations services director Jim Braswell said Bruns was a enthusiastic advocate for the airport.
“He was very personable,” Braswell said. “Everybody that ever met him liked him.”
Bruns participated at open houses at the airport, and two years ago demonstrated a water drop.
In 2002, Bruns and a co-pilot were awarded citations for preventing a mid-air collision on the Clark Creek Fire in Tennessee.
Braswell said after Wass died, Bruns had suggestions to make the job safer.
“No one could forecast that he would be an unfortunate one,” Braswell said. “I am sure Brian would be the person to say, ‘If you can get something good out of the loss of myself toward making headway in safety, go ahead and use it.'”
Parker said Wednesday’s crash doesn’t deter pilots.
“We’re all professionals. We all believe in this business and like to think of ourselves as firefighters here to do good for people. That’s what makes the difference,” he said.
Parker said he doesn’t consider the job dangerous.
“To me, danger implies a lack of control,” he said. “I think the job is unforgiving of carelessness or errors. If you make a mistake, you will pay for.”
Parker cautioned against speculating about what might have happened.
“It does no service to anybody and can damage the families,” he said. “I don’t mean to sound cold, but Tom, Paul and Brian – those guys are gone. It’s the families that suffer and they are the people who should be shown some consideration now.”
Parker said he wouldn’t be surprised if the accident increases scrutiny of the pilots and the planes.
Air Minden’s tanker were grounded most of the summer last year by the U.S. Forest Service and the Department of the Interior. The agencies cited concerns with public safety after two planes broke up in midair in 2002, including the plane that carried Wass and his crew.
“It’s fair to say the business is under an increased level of scrutiny and maybe some of that is justified,” Parker said. “All operators take this business very seriously and we monitor ourselves far beyond what is required.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
— Sheila Gardner can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 782-5121, ext. 214.