Photo of Red Rock Fire by Ernie Ross of Sparks
Two pilots from Boise, Idaho are dead after their tanker crashed fighting a fire on the Nevada-Utah border. The 5,000-acre fire was lightning-caused and that accident was not the only one to happen on Sunday. Another tanker made an emergency landing in Minden that same afternoon.
48-year-old Todd Tompkins grew up wanting to fly, says his wife, Cassandra Cannon.
He and his co-pilot Ronnie Chambless were on their second drop of the day on Sunday, when authorities say their tanker crashed into the wilderness one-hundred-50-miles northeast of Las Vegas.
“We will not do anything until they have cleared it and made it clear to us it is safe to go in and look at the wreckage,” says NTSB Investigator Van McKenny.
The N-T-S-B arrived on the scene just Monday afternoon and will help determine what made the tanker go down.
The plane was owned and operated by Neptune Aviation out of Missoula Montana.
According to the National Forest Service, the company voluntarily grounded its other tankers Monday.
This is not the first tragedy for the company.
In September of 2008, three people died near Stead Airport when their tanker crashed just after takeoff.
That plane, too, was owned by Neptune.
The sceneSunday afternoon at the Minden Airport looked calm and under control when Tanker 55 made an emergency landing after the pilot radioed ground crews and told them his landing gear was out.
He circled the airport for more than an hour to burn off fuel before making an attempt to land the tanker.
The tanker had been helping fight the George Fire in the Grand Sequoia National Monument in California earlier in the day, and was later fueled in Porterville.
According to reports, the pilot headed back to home base in Minden.
Minden Air owns and operates the plane, which sustained serious damage during the emergency landing.
Tanker 55 sat idle on Monday at the Minden Douglas airport, and so did Tanker 48 at the request of the Forest Service, until a full inspection can be made.
The day's events mean 9 large tankers remain in the federal fleet to fight fires.
The Forest Service says it has access to other craft if need be.
The Forest Service fleet is made up of planes dating to the 1950s.
More than half are due to retire in 10 years.
Three months ago, senators from four western states asked the general accounting office to analyze forest service efforts to replace the aging fleet.