Firefighting Air Tanker Crash Kills Two

October 3, 2003

REDLANDS, Calif. (AP) — 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 to San Bernardino when it went down late Friday morning about four miles outside Redlands, Donn Walker of the Federal Aviation Administration said.
 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 tanker, owned by Minden Aircorps, was one of two heading to the San Bernardino Air Tanker Base after firefighting duty in Arizona, said Matt Mathes, a Forest Service spokesman.
One plane landed safely but the other was reported 30 minutes overdue, he said. Shortly afterward, authorities received a report of wreckage in the national forest.
“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,” said Len Parker, Minden’s chief executive officer.
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. 
The crash occurred about eight miles from the airport in a remote, brushy area about 70 miles east of Los Angeles, said Ruth Wenstrom, a San Bernardino National Forest spokeswoman. She said it was unclear whether fog reported at the base extended into the mountains. 
National Transportation Safety Board members were en route to determine the cause of the crash.
The nation’s fleet of air tankers are owned and flown by private companies under contract with the Forest Service. Many are retired military or commercial transport planes built decades ago.
The aircraft that crashed Friday was a twin-engine P2-V, said Jedd Kinzie of the Sierra Front Interagency Dispatch Center in Minden, Nev. The planes, known as Neptunes, were built in the 1940s and 1950s as intelligence-gathering and anti-submarine aircraft, then re-equipped as firefighters.


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