USA — The pilot of an air tanker who died while fighting a Fort Carson wildfire in April failed “to maintain aircraft control following the jettison of the load” of water and foam, federal air safety inspectors said.
Pilot Gert Marais’ single-engine tanker suffered an “inadvertent stall” after the drop, and the plane nose-dived into the ground, the National Transportation Safety Board said in reporting on the probable cause of the April 15 accident.
The plane was “improperly configured” for the firefighting mission, NTSB said, and other factors contributing to the accident were “gusty wind conditions and the pressure to complete the mission.”
Marais, 42, had told dispatchers that he thought winds were too high in the vicinity of the Fort Carson fire for his plane and a second single-engine tanker to safely perform the aerial firefighting task. Marais and the second pilot had been dispatched to fight a wildfire in Ordway that was underway at the same time as the Fort Carson blaze.
As the two tankers flew toward Ordway, dispatchers asked them to divert to Fort Carson.
When they reached the military reservation, Marais flew over a selected fire drop zone and reported to a firefighting official that “the winds and turbulence were too strong to do a drop,” NTSB said.
An official asked Marais to drop the water and foam nearby, and it was after that drop that his plane plunged to the ground.
NTSB’s report said examination of the wreckage showed the flaps on Marais’ plane were in the fully extended, 30-degree position compared with the recommended flap setting of 10 degrees for load release during aerial firefighting operations.
Wildfire management officials also said Marais’ plane “was not the right aircraft” for the Fort Carson mission “because of its configuration with agricultural equipment,” the fact that it carried water and foam instead of fire-retardant slurry and because of weather conditions in the wildfire area, the report said.