USA — A converted military plane crashed in heavy fog in the Oquirrh mountains, killing three crew members of a private Montana-based firefighting company, the Tooele County sheriff said Saturday.
Sheriff Frank Park said the plane was en route from Missoula, Mont., to Alamogordo, N. M., when it failed to clear a mountain pass in Utah.
The crew members for Neptune Aviation of Missoula, Mont., were bound for southern New Mexico to help fight a 19,000-acre wildfire, said Dan Ware, a spokesman for the New Mexico Forestry Division.
”While we must pause to mourn their loss, within the wildland community we must also honor them by continuing to fight fires to protect our communities,” state forester Arthur Blazer said.
The wildfire, 20 percent contained, was threatening a home and several outbuildings and a power distribution line, officials said.
The sheriff identified the pilot as Tom Risk, 66, of Littleton, Colo., and crew members as Mike Flynn, 59, of Alamogordo, N. M., and Brian Buss, 32, of Alberton, Mont.
Neptune’s ground safety and security coordinator, Miek Pfau, said he could confirm only that the company lost an aircraft.
The wreckage of the plane, a twin-propeller P2V Neptune with a 100-foot wing span, was located about 1 p.m. near Stockton Pass, the sheriff said.
Park described the debris field as about 100 yards long. Search and rescue crews reached the steep, rugged site on foot and all-terrain vehicles to recover the bodies. They were turned over to the state medical examiner, he said.
Investigators for the Federal Aviation Administration were at the crash site Saturday, and officials for the National Traffic Safety Board planned to arrive Sunday, the sheriff said.
Park said the Neptune, a plane developed during the Korean war that is commonly used to fight wildfires, had been equipped for dropping fire retardant.
Park said visibility was only 100 feet when the plane failed to clear Stockton Pass. It missed the pass by an eighth of a mile and slammed into a mountain instead, but should have been flying much higher, he said.
The plane was being tracked by the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, which lost track of it before the pilot could report any trouble or issue a distress signal, the sheriff said.
”The fire aviation community lost good people and a valuable resource today and they will be missed,” said Jennifer Myslivy, a New Mexico-based fire mitigation and education specialist for the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.
The Oquirrh mountains where the plane went down frame the west side of the Salt Lake valley.