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Incident Name:  Cannon Fire on the Humboldt Toiyabe National Forest
Date: 6/17/2002
Personnel: 3 lives lost
Agency/Organization: Hawkins & Powers of Greybull, WY under contract with the US Forest Service, Sierra Front Interagency Cooperators
Position: aerial firefighters

Steven Ray Wass, Pilot, 43 years
Craig LaBare, Co-Pilot, 37 years
Mike Davis, Engineer, 59 years

Pilot Wass, Co-Pilot LaBare, and Flight Engineer Davis were the crew of a C-130A airtanker fighting a fire near Walker, California. As the aircraft began to pull out from a slurry drop run, the starboard wing came off as the centre wing box failed during. Moments later, the port wing failed. The aircraft rolled, inverted and crashed to earth as fire was ignited in the area of the separated wings. All 3 crew members were killed.

The aircraft involved in this incident was manufactured by Lockheed in 1957 and placed in service by the Air Force. The C-130 is a 4-engine turboprop aircraft. This aircraft began its civil aviation career in 1988. The wildland firefighting version of the C-130A is capable of delivering 3,000 gallons of firefighting agent.

An initial evaluation of the plane's records by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) found that the plane had accumulated over 20,000 flight hours. The wildland fire eventually consumed over 15,000 acres north of Yosemite National Park. In December of 2002, the United States Forest Service permanently grounded all C-130A aircraft in its fleet, as well as the PB4Y-2 aircraft -- 33 aircraft in all. A PB4Y-2 was involved in a fatal crash later in the summer. (from the summary sent in to the USFA Memorial Database)

Steve Wass, Craig LaBare & T-130:

Steve Wass Steve Wass
Craig LaBare Craig LaBare
Tanker 130 Tanker 130
Tanker 130 Tanker 130
Tanker 130 Tanker 130
Tanker 130 losing a wing Tanker 130 losing a wing
Tanker 130 losing a wing Tanker 130 losing a wing

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collision with terrain near Walker CA

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Reports, Documentation, Lessons Learned

  • Concise Information: NTSB, FAA, USFS, AAP, WLF Staff
    • June 17, 2002 - Tanker 130
    • 3 killed: Steve Wass, Craig LaBare, Mike Davis
    • Operator: Hawkins & Powers of Greybull, WY
    • Type: Lockheed C-130A
    • collision with terrain near Walker, CA,
    • FAA Tail # N130HP
    • NTSB # LAX02GA201
  • Forest Service Investigations - Fatal Aviation Accident History (1979-2000): Pages 37 & 38 for this incident (285 K pdf) | Entire History (download 4.72 MB pdf)
  • National Transportation and Safety Board: Factual Report (77 K pdf)
  • National Transportation and Safety Board: Probable Cause (html) | Probable Cause (234 K pdf)

    The airplane was making a fire retardant drop over a mountain drainage valley when the wings separated from the fuselage. A videotape of the accident sequence showed the airplane as it flew down the valley and proceeded to make a fire retardant drop. When the drop was almost completed, the airplane's nose began moving up, and the airplane started to arrest its descent and level out. The nose of the airplane continued to rise, and the airplane's wings folded upward until they detached from the fuselage at the center wing box beam-to-fuselage attachment location. Close examination of the video revealed that the right wing folded upward first, followed by the left wing about 1 second later. Metallurgical examination of the center wing box lower skin revealed a 12-inch long fatigue crack on the lower surface of the right wing beneath the forward doubler, with two separate fatigue crack initiation sites at stringer attachment rivet holes (which join the external doubler and the internal stringers to the lower skin panel). The cracks from both initiation sites eventually linked up to create a single crack. The portion of the wing skin containing the fatigue crack was covered by a manufacturer-installed doubler, which would have hidden the crack from view and, therefore, prevented detection of the crack from a visual inspection of the exterior of the airplane. The investigation found that the airplane was probably operated within the maximum takeoff gross weight limits specified in the airplane flight manual.

    The National Transportation Safety Board determines the probable cause(s) of this accident as follows: the inflight failure of the right wing due to fatigue cracking in the center wing lower skin and underlying structural members. A factor contributing to the accident was inadequate maintenance procedures to detect fatigue cracking.

  • NTSB: Accident Summary for N130HP (contents and links posted at Wickisource)
  • For more information consult the NTSB website, NTSB Identification: # LAX02GA201
  • NTSB Advisory 9/24/2002 with warning about fatigue cracking with photos of cracks.
  • Forest Service Investigations - Fatal Aviation Accident History (1979-2000): Pages 37 & 38 for this incident (39 K pdf) | Entire History (download 4.72 MB pdf)
  • USFA Memorial Database: Steven Ray Wass | Craig LaBare | Michael Harlow Davis
Tanker 130 crash site, from NTSB Report Tanker 130 crash site, from NTSB Report
  • Following this crash and the crash of T-123 and the re-investigation of the 1994 crash of Tanker 82 for wing separation issues due to fatigue, the USFS and BLM created an independent Blue Ribbon Panel on Aerial Firefighting "to investigate issues associated with aerial wildland firefighting in the US." The report was released March 26, 2003 with eight findings:
    "...critical for planning a safe and effective fire aviation program. The Report identified various concerns about aircraft safety, including the airworthiness of aircraft that were operating outside of their original intended design and the appropriate levels of maintenance and training to ensure safe operations. The report also identified a lack of training in contemporary aviation management areas that has contributed to an unacceptable accident rate."

    After the release of Blue Ribbon Panel Report recommendations, the FS and BLM took the following actions. They...

    1. did not renew the contracts on 9 C-130A and PB4Y-2 air tankers
    2. suspended the 33 remaining large airtankers, requiring them to undergo an improved inspection program that took into consideration the airplane's original design, age, operational stresses, and provided engineering evaluations -- to predict and prevent fatigue cracking -- before they returned to active service. Sandia National Labs was contracted to analyze whether the the Douglas DC series (DC-4, DC-6 and DC-7), the P-3 Orion and the P-2 Neptune were safe to operate as air tankers.
    3. retired 11 of 19 Beechcraft Baron P58 lead planes.
    4. directed that air tankers were only to be used on initial attack.

    On May 10, 2004 with continuing serious concerns regarding how to insure airworthiness, the FS and BLM terminated contracts for the entire large air tanker fleet.

  • Statement of Larry Hamilton, National Director Fire and Aviation Management (NIFC) before congressional committee, 3/26,2003: Oversight Hearing Blue Ribbon Pannel Report and Aerial Firefighting Safety
  • Aviation Safety Network: N130HP
  • And it goes on... but the tragic accidents of 2002 forever changed the way aerial firefighting is conducted.

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Media Articles and Reports.

  • Air Tanker Crashes Fighting Sierra Wildfire; Fire Officials Say Blaze Threatens 200 Homes

    6/17/2002 | Online Article (no longer online)

  • Air Tanker Crash Kills 3 Firefighters

    6/17/2002 | Online Article

    An air tanker fighting a blaze north of Yosemite National Park caught fire Monday and crashed in this Northern California resort town, killing all three crew members and just missing a mechanic's shop, authorities and witnesses said. A Reno, Nev., television station captured the scene on videotape as the wings broke off the C-130 transport plane. The fiery fuselage then rolled left and spiraled nose first into the ground and exploded in a ball of flame. All three crew members were killed in the crash "under unknown circumstances after making a drop" of retardant... (Much more at the link...)

  • C130 Grounding Only Affects One Colorado Plane, Wyoming company outfits planes for fire service

    6/18/2002 | Online Article

    A C-130A air tanker that crashed and killed three crew members while fighting a wildfire in California was contracted to the federal government by Hawkins & Powers Aviation Inc., of Greybull, fire officials said. The C-130A transport was fighting a 10,000-acre wildland blaze... (More at the link...)

  • Officials disagree on ability of nation's old, thin airtanker fleet

    6/17/2012 | Online Article

    Only nine heavy air tankers remain in the U.S. Forest Service's fleet to battle a wildfire season expected to last through the fall, worrying critics who fear the lack of resources has left forests vulnerable. A decade ago, the fleet numbered 44. Eight of the remaining planes... (More at the link...)

  • 2002 US Airtanker Crashes from Wikipedia

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Photos, Videos, & Tributes

T-130 Memorial at Walker, CA T-130 Memorial at Walker, CA
Memorial at Minden, NV Memorial at Minden, NV
  • Last Drop Memorial Tribute to those lost on Tanker 130 and Tanker 99, performed by T-48 at Minden, NV on March 25, 2004
T-48 waterdrop memorial T-48 waterdrop memorial
To those lost on T-130 & T-99 To those lost on T-130 & T-99
T-48 waterdrop memorial T-48 waterdrop memorial

  • 2013 photos of the memorial at Walker (with many more t-shirts). Photos credit: Holly Krieger
2013: T-130 Memorial at Walker, CA 2013: T-130 Memorial at Walker, CA
2013: T-130 Memorial at Walker, CA 2013: T-130 Memorial at Walker, CA
2013: T-130 Memorial at Walker, CA 2013: T-130 Memorial at Walker, CA
2013: T-130 Memorial at Walker, CA 2013: T-130 Memorial at Walker, CA
Tanker 130 at La Grande, OR 11/30/10 Tanker 130 at La Grande, OR 11/30/10

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Contributors to this article: many wildland firefighters and aerial firefighters


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