$1.6 Million Air Tanker Settlement Questioned

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Wyoming Sen. Craig Thomas wants the Department of Justice to re-evaluate its $1.6 million settlement agreement with Hawkins & Powers Aviation Inc., owner of a firefighting airtanker that crashed in the Sierra, killing all three crew members last year.

The settlement dating to early 2002 is not related to the fatal crash. It follows a lawsuit claiming the Greybull company got a sweetheart deal on surplus C-130 planes from the Department of Defense, according to Thomas officials.

Hawkins & Powers obtained the planes through a program that involved trading antique planes for display in museums.

In June 2002, a Hawkins & Powers C-130A crashed near the California-Nevada line after its wings came off, killing all three on board. Later that year it was revealed that the plane was used by the Central Intelligence Agency for various missions.

It was also learned that records of the plane's flying hours and maintenance were not provided to Hawkins & Powers. Thomas, R-Wyo., said in a release Wednesday that the lack of information casts doubt on the exchange.

"Hawkins and Powers is not trying to escape from paying the Federal Government," he said. "The company simply wants the government to postpone the settlement payments until the Department of Justice has re-evaluated its case against H&P."

Hawkins & Powers has paid $140,000 of the settlement since January.

With 160 employees in Wyoming, Hawkins & Powers is one of the world's largest firefighting operations.

"If the federal government chooses not to revisit the settlement agreement with H&P, there is a chance that the company may have to file for bankruptcy and 160 hardworking Wyomingites could lose their jobs," Thomas said. "I for one will do what I can to make sure that this does not happen."

Adding to the company's woes, the U.S. Forest Service permanently grounded all C-130 air tankers after the crash.

Hawkins & Powers officials could not be reached for comment.