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Incident Name:  Butler Creek Fire, Lolo National Forest, MT
Date: 7/29/1994
Personnel:  2 lives lost
Agency/Organization: Neptune Aviation, Inc; Contracted to the U.S. Forest Service, Missoula Aerial Fire Depot
Position: aerial firefighters

Robert E. Kelly, 58 years, Pilot
Randy C. Lynn, 44 years, Engineer

On July 29, 1994, pilots Bob Kelly and Randy Lynn of Neptune, Inc died in a Lockheed P2V-7 air tanker crash, registration # N918AP west of Missoula MT after dropping a partial load of retardant on the Butler Creek Fire. According to Flight Safety Digest, April 1999 Appendix, "the crew apparently became fixated on the malfunction of the retardant-release doors and did not realize the tanker was entering a narrow box canyon." The airplane struck steeply rising terrain below the ridgetop. (Flight Safety Digest, April 1999 -- Fixed-wing Aircraft Accidents During US Aerial Fire Fighting Operations 1976-1998; link below.)

P2V Airtanker for type of airtanker. Photo credit Mike Meadows:

P2V Airtanker P2V Airtanker


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Accident Location: Crash site is close to the middle of the fire scar SW of Squaw Peak, now Ch-paa-qn Peak. Lat/Lon provided by Steve Karkanen.

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Reports, Documentation, Lessons Learned

  • Information from the NTSB, FAA, USFS, AAP and research by the WLF Staff:
    • July 29, 1994 - Tanker 04
    • 2 killed: Bob Kelly, Randy Lynn
    • Operator: Neptune Aviation of Missoula, MT
    • Type: Lockheed P2V-7
    • crashed near Missoula, MT, controlled flight into terrain (CFIT) on a drop run
    • FAA Tail #N918AP
    • NTSB # SEA94T#A02
  • NTSB Database Loookup NTSB Identification: SEA94T#A02 is incomplete. Screensave of only record.
  • Forest Service Investigations - Fatal Aviation Accident History (1979-2000): Pages 26 - 28 for this incident (402 K pdf) | Entire History (download 4.72 MB pdf)
  • Flight Safety Foundation ( Flight Safety Digest, Vol 18, No. 4, April 1999, US Aerial Firefighting Accidents Involving Fixed Wing Aircraft 1976-1998 (218 K pdf)
  • USFS Heroes Memorial: Robert Eugene Kelly | Randy C Lynn
  • Note: Prior to 1996 NTSB did not investigate Gov owned and operated, Gov owned and contractor operated or some aircraft that were privately owned and operated as "public aircraft". Government agency investigations and reports were/are often hard to find and access. The "Pressler Act", passed in 1995 and enacted in 1996, changed that, making all aircraft accident reports easier to access and lessons easier to learn. (Click the link and search on "Pressler".)
  • Kelly's and Lynn's names, death date and brief bio are included in the USFA Firefighter Fatality Retrospective Study, published April 2002 (2,888 K pdf)

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Media Articles and Reports.

Tanker 04 Announcement Tanker 04 Announcement

Identification of the fallen:

Robert Kelly and Randy Lynn Robert Kelly and Randy Lynn
Tanker 04: Robert Kelly and Randy Lynn Tanker 04: Robert Kelly and Randy Lynn
  • Forest Service Must Pay $3.5 Million In Airtanker Crash

    12/4/1998 | Initially by AP 1998

    Missoula - December 4 - A federal judge [U.S. District Court in Missoula, Montana] has ruled the US Forest Service must pay almost $3.5 million, to the families of two airtanker pilots killed while fighting a forest fire northwest of Missoula in 1994. Killed in the incident were Randy Lynn, a 44-year-old Missoula resident, and 57-year-old Robert Kelly of Alamogordo, New Mexico. US District Judge Donald Molloy ruled that the Forest Service did not provide adequate safety and emergency management training for Kelly and Lynn. Molloy said better training could have saved the men's lives. The two men died July 29th, 1994, when their plane was dispatched to drop retardant on fires burning in the Butler Creek area. Kelly and Lynn survived the crash and got out of the aircraft, but died of burns suffered in the subsequent explosion and fire.

    [Ab note: later an Appeals Court disagreed]

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Photos, Videos, & Tributes

  • Forest Service Fire Management Today, Vol 55, No. 1, 1995 "In Memoriam"
Forest Service Fire Management Today, Vol 55, No. 1, 1995 In Memoriam Forest Service Fire Management Today, Vol 55, No. 1, 1995 In Memoriam
P2V Airtanker P2V Airtanker


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Contributors to this article: Steve Karkanen, Mike Meadows


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