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Incident Name: Ishi (Airtanker Training Flight)
Date: 4/20/05, 1855 hrs
Personnel:  3 lives lost
Agency/Organization: Aero Union Corporation under contract to the US Forest Service
Position: All pilots

Brian Bruns, Pilot, age 47, of Minden NV 
Paul Cockrell, Pilot, age 52, of Fresno CA
Tom Lynch, Pilot, age 41, of Redding CA

Incident Description: Pilots Bruns, Cockrell, and Lynch were practicing water drops and undergoing training/qualification flight checks on a Lockheed P-3B Orion airtanker, Tanker 26, N926AU. The pilots were on their 10th training run of the day, having just refilled the aircraft's water tanks. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed. For an unknown reason, the aircraft crashed about 12 miles north of the Chico Municipal Airport. No distress call was received from the aircraft. All 3 pilots were killed in the crash or in the ensuing fire.

Paul Cockrell    Brian Bruns

Paul Cockrell, Pilot Paul Cockrell, Pilot
Brian Bruns, Pilot Brian Bruns, Pilot

T-26 photos compliments of Mike Evans, taken at Minden in 2004; This P-3B was manufactured in '66 and was formerly operated by the US Navy. Four Allison T56A11 turboprop engines power the P-3B.

Tanker 26 in 2004. Tanker 26 in 2004.
Sisters: T-26 and T-21 Sisters: T-26 and T-21
Big & Little: T-26 and little SEAT (Single Engine Air Tanker) Big & Little: T-26 and little SEAT (Single Engine Air Tanker)
Big & Little: T-26 and a SEAT (Single Engine Air Tanker) Big & Little: T-26 and a SEAT (Single Engine Air Tanker)

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Location on the southern edge of the Ishi Wilderness in Tahema County CA

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Reports, Documentation, Lessons Learned

  • Information from the NTSB, FAA, USFS, AAP and WFF Staff:
    • April 20, 2005 - Tanker 26
    • 3 killed: Tom Lynch, Paul Cockrell, Brian Bruns
    • Operator: Aero Union
    • Type: Lockheed P-3B Orion
    • impacted terrain north of the Chico airport, CA, training flight
    • FAA Registration # N926AU
    • NTSB # SEA05MA085
  • National Transportion Safety Board: Factual Report (118 K pdf)
  • National Transportion Safety Board: Probable Cause (html) | Probable Cause (223 K pdf)

    Terrain clearance was not maintained while maneuvering for undetermined reasons. Mountainous terrain was a factor.

  • National Transportion Safety Board: Full Narrative (html)

    The tanker aircraft had taken off from Chico qualification check flight for pilots who were scheduled to conduct firefighting operations during the upcoming fire season. The accident flight involved conducting practice drops of water over an area of rugged mountainous terrain located north of the Chico Airport. Prior to departing on the flight, the airplane was loaded with 2,550 gallons of water. The Orion crashed and caught fire immediately following the training drop in the rugged terrain of the Lassen National Forest.

  • For additional information about this crash, consult the NTSB Lookup Utility: Identification # SEA05MA085
  • USFA Memorial Website: Brian Bruns | Paul Cockrell | Tom Lynch
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Media Articles and Reports.

The articles below (except for the last one) were published in the Chico Enterprise-Record (Chico, CA).
Archive search for complete articles for a fee explained here: Article numbers with the beginnings of the articles.


Aero Union tanker crashes: Three crew members believed to be dead

Author: LAURA URSENY - Staff Writer
Date: April 21, 2005; Article ID: 2828156

Three crew members of an Aero Union air tanker are believed dead after their plane crashed Wednesday evening in a remote area of Tehama County during a training mission.

A Lassen National Forest spokeswoman confirmed there were three aboard the air tanker, which was on a training mission in the Brushy Mountain area of the Ishi Wilderness.

Assistant Public Affairs Officer Leona Rodreick said there "is no confirmation of survivors."


Crash claims three veterans: Airplane's debris field may help investigators

Author: GREG WELTER Staff Writer

Date: April 22, 2005; Article ID: 2830291

COHASSET A team searching through the night for the site of a fiery air tanker crash used global positioning navigation to find their way through terrain that at times could only be traversed on hands and knees.

Capt. Greg Gormelly of Tehama County Search and Rescue said the crash location just south of Lassen National Forest's Ishi Wilderness was first reached by ground at 8 a.m. Thursday about 10 hours after rescuers set out.


Crash underscores concerns about aging fleet; congressman stands behind company

Author:RYAN OLSON Staff Writer

Date: April 22, 2005; Article ID: 2830301

As investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board search for the cause of Wednesday's fatal crash, politicians are eyeing the U.S. Forest Service's aging fleet of 32 large, fixed-wing tankers with increased scrutiny.

Forest Service officials and Rep. Wally Herger, R-Chico, expressed confidence in tanker plane operator Aero Union Corp. after three company pilots were killed when their P-3 Orion air tanker crashed during a training run north of Chico CA...


Pilot killed Wednesday suffered tragedy when brother, also a pilot, perished in 1995 wreck

Author:  GREG WELTER Staff Writer

Date: April 22, 2005; Article ID: 2830299

Paul Cockrell, the air tanker pilot killed Wednesday in a crash near the Lassen National Forest, lost a brother in an air tanker crash in 1995.

At the time of their deaths, both men were flying for Aero Union Corporation of Chico.

According to a story in the Los Angeles Times, Gary Cockrell of Paso Robles was piloting a four-engine DC-4 and dropping retardant on a fire near Anza-Borrego State Park when his craft collided with a small spotter plane.

Cockrell, his co-pilot Lisa...


Team spends day scouring tanker crash site

AAuthor: GREG WELTER - Staff Writer

Date: April 23, 2005; Article ID: 2832236

Officials from two federal agencies and three private companies wrapped up their first full day of an investigation Friday into the crash of a firefighting air tanker.

The crash Wednesday night just outside the Lassen National Forest killed three veteran pilots, including the chief pilot, for Chico-based Aero Union Corp., and destroyed one of its P-3 Orion aircraft.

A team of eight experts sifted through wreckage at the crash site until dark, said the National Transportation Safety Board...


Investigation of crash site finished

Author: GREG WELTER - Staff Writer

ADate: April 26, 2005; Article ID: 2836586

A National Transportation Safety Board official said investigators at the scene of an air tanker crash since Friday have completed their examination of the wreckage, but haven't come to any conclusions.

The plane crashed early Wednesday night in rugged terrain near the Lassen National Forest, killing three veteran pilots employed by Aero Union Corp. of Chico and destroying one of its P-3 Orions.

On Friday, a team of eight federal and private industry investigators said ...


Being prepared for service

Date: April 27, 2005; Article ID: 2838299

The tail of one of Aero Union's P-3 air tankers protrudes from the Chico Municipal Airport hanger in which the plane is being readied for the upcoming fire season. The secretary of agriculture said Tuesday the Forest Service is interested in getting more P-3s flying, despite last week's fatal crash. Some of the additional planes could come from other countries; a P-3 bearing Spanish Air Force insignia is currently parked on the tarmac at an Aero Union hanger...


California Crash renews Air Tanker Concerns

Wildfire Today

... Pending more information from the NTSB, the remaining large air tankers under contract would keep flying, said U.S. Forest Service spokesperson Rose Davis. “Seven of them are P-3 Orions that we have operational service life data on, and the other three we don't have that information, but we have them wired up with monitoring equipment, so we're going to take the risk of returning them to service so we can gather data on the firefighting environment.”

Davis said the Forest Service paid for an engineering study for the P-2Vs, and was hoping to get those results in early June. “We may see enough data to give us confidence in returning the P-2Vs back, but nothing is a given. Safety is the bottom line, and [having] some sort of confidence that they're safe to fly.”

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Photos, Videos, & Tributes

Published in the Chico Enterprise-Record (Chico, CA). Archive search for complete articles for a fee.

  • Memorial service set for tanker pilots

    Date: April 28, 2005; Article ID: 2840447

    A memorial service will be held in Chico for the three Aero Union crew members who died in the April 20 crash of their air tanker.

    Open to the public, the service will be held at 2 p.m. Wednesday at the Aero Union hangar at 165 Ryan Ave. at the Chico Municipal Airport.

    The crew members have been identified as Brian Bruns of Minden, Nev., Paul Cockrell of Fresno, and Tom Lynch of Redding...

  • Memorial Photos from John E; Getting ready for the memorial at Aero Union in Chico CA and Lining up. John: "The Navy also had a P-3 present."
Getting Ready for Memorial Getting Ready for Memorial
Lining Up Lining Up

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