Incident Name: 200 acre fire near Bellwood Reservoir, Blair Co
Date: 04/20/1997, 1435 hrs
Personnel: 2 Lives Lost
Agency/Organization: Hirth Air Tanker; under contract with Pennsylvania Bureau of Forestry, Harrisburg PA
Position: aerial firefighters
John Hirth, Pilot, Age 45
William W. Babka, Co-Pilot, Age 34
On April 20, 1997, John Hirth and William Babka, flying a PV2 (B26) Tanker 38, were dropping water on a forest fire started by an unattended campfire. After leveling for the drop, the aircraft was affected by a downdraft from wind gusts. Winds were gusting to 18 knots (21 mph). Terrain was mountainous and smoke from the fire had an impact on visibility. One wing impacted trees and the airplane stripped off the tops of trees for approximately 100 feet before coming to rest. The crew did not survive.
Near Blandburg, PA
Accident Site (approximate)
- Concise Information from the NTSB, FAA, AAP, and research by the WLF Staff:
- April 20, 1997 - Tanker 38 accident
- 2 killed: John Hirth, William W. Babka
- Operator: Hirth Air Tanker
- Type: Lockheed PV2
- impacted trees then mountainous terrain near Blandburg, PA and Bellwood Reservoir, Blair Co.
- FAA registration # N6856C
- NTSB # IAD97FA065
- National Transportation Safety Board: Probable Cause (html) | Probable Cause (27K pdf)
Pilot in command misjudged his maneuvering altitude. Factors to this accident were the mountainous terrain, windy conditions, turbulence in the area, and smoke.
- NTSB: Full Narrative
- National Transportation Safety Board: Factual Report (89 K pdf)
- Flight Safety Foundation (flightsafety.org): Flight Safety Digest, Vol 18, No. 4, April 1999, US Aerial Firefighting Accidents Involving Fixed Wing Aircraft 1976-1998 (218 K pdf)
- USFA Database: Walter John Hirth Jr | William W Babka
- For more information on this crash, visit the NTSB query: # IAD97FA065
- US Social Security Death Index: Walter John Hirth | William W Babka
- Airtanker Pilots' Memorial Wall: John Hirth | William Babka Donations accepted there.
- This was the first airtanker crash in Pennsylvania.
Contributors to this article: Thanks to Wayne Wynick from PA, who brought this LODD to our attention and thanks to Connie Hirth an excellent pilot and a "class act" on the Airtanker Pilots Board.
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