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Incident Name:  Fire 30, Marshfield WI
Date:  4/8/09, 1426 hr
Personnel:  Heath Van Handel
Age:  36
Agency/Organization:  Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, Marshfield, WI
Position: air attack pilot

Summary: On April 8, 2009, Heath Van Handel, 36, a Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, air attack pilot died when the Cessna Skymaster 337, twin-engine aircraft he was piloting crashed during observation of forest fire suppression efforts near the Town of Cary in Wood County, WI.

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Maps

Accident Location

 

near the Town of Cary in Wood County, WI

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Reports, Documentation, Lessons Learned

  • Wisconsin DNR Press Release: 4/8/09, Madison WI

    Heath Van Handel, 36, an experienced Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, aircraft pilot died today when the aircraft he was piloting crashed during forest fire suppression efforts near the Town of Cary in Wood County. Van Handel, a DNR employee since 2006, was a former commercial pilot and flight instructor at Kansas State University in Salina.

    Van Handel was piloting a Cessna 337, twin-engine aircraft, owned by the state Department of Administration and leased to the DNR. He was responding to a wildfire in the town of Cary in Wood County as an air attack pilot—a pilot that observes the fire and radios key intelligence on fuel type and fire behavior to fire fighters below. The crash occurred at 2:26 p. m. The forest fire has now been contained and controlled. This is the first fatality of a DNR air attack pilot in the line of duty.

    The Federal Aeronautics Administration and National Transportation Safety Board have been notified of the incident and the crash site has been secured by the Wood County Sheriff’s Department.

  • Concise Information: NTSB, FAA, WLF Staff
    • April 8, 2009 - Wisconsin DNR Air Attack
    • 1 killed: Heath Van Handel
    • Wisconsin Department of Administration, leased to the WI DNR
    • Cesna 337
    • impacted agricultural field near Cary in Wood County, WI
    • FAA Tail #N2489S
    • NTSB # CEN09GA242
  • National Transportation and Safety Board: Factual Report (90 K pdf)
  • National Transportation and Safety Board: Probable Cause (html) | Probable Cause (26 K pdf)
    The public-use airplane was being operated as a single-pilot aerial observation aircraft when it was responding to a ground fire. The fire originated from a garbage fire at a house that was adjacent to a wooded area. The wooded area was at the northern edge of a fallow agricultural field that the airplane was seen initially flying over on a southerly heading at an altitude of about 100 feet above the trees. The airplane then turned towards a northerly heading and descended to an altitude of about 35 feet above the field. The airplane engine noise then increased which was then followed by a wing drop consistent with an aerodynamic stall as it approached the tree line. Examination of the wreckage revealed no anomalies that would have precluded normal operation.

    The National Transportation Safety Board determines the probable cause(s) of this accident as follows:

    The pilot's failure to maintain adequate airspeed which resulted in an aerodynamic stall at a low altitude.

  • National Transportation and Safety Board: Full Narrative (html)
  • For more information consult the NTSB website, NTSB Identification: # CEN09GA242
  • USFA Memorial Database: Heath Van Handel

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Wildlandfire.com Links:

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Media Articles and Reports.

  • Small-plane crash kills pilot in Wisconsin

    7:28 PM CDT, April 8, 2009, Associated Press | No longer online

    Pittsville, Wis. - A state Department of Natural Resources plane being used to help spot grass fires crashed Wednesday, killing the pilot, authorities said.

    Tom Korte, a dispatcher for the Wood County Dispatch Center, said the pilot was the only person on the plane, which the Federal Aviation Administration described as a multiengine, Cessna 337 manufactured in 1967.

    The pilot was identified as Heath Van Handel, 36, a DNR employee for three years who had also worked as a commercial pilot and flight instructor.

    "Heath Van Handels dedication to service and protecting both the citizens and our natural resources is at the core of what we are about as public servants and an agency," DNR Secretary Matt Frank said in a statement."He will be deeply missed."

    Kelly Zenz, manager of the Wood County Dispatch Center, said crash occurred about 2:30 p.m. in a field about six miles southwest of Marshfield. The plane was being used to help observe a wildfire as firefighters worked on the ground.

    "It was in the DNR intensive area, which means the DNR units were there, so they bring in the plane," Zenz said. "Something malfunctioned to where he crashed."

    The crash occurred in a field next to the fire, he said. The fire has been contained and controlled, DNR spokeswoman Laurel Steffes said in a statement released about 6:40 p.m.

    Gov. Jim Doyle called Van Handel "a courageous, experienced pilot" who died while working to protect citizens and their property from the fire. "We owe Heath tremendous gratitude for his extraordinary service and dedication," Doyle said in a statement.

    Richard Luther of Pittsville, who lives about three miles from the crash, said he and his wife heard about a grass fire in the area and drove over to check it out. Luther said he saw the plane circling the fire and then "it went straight down."

    The National Transportation Safety Board will lead an investigation, FAA spokeswoman Elizabeth Isham Cory said.

  • Pilot died monitoring fire caused by illegal burning

    April 10, 2009, Associated Press | No longer online

    The fire a DNR pilot was sent to observe when his plane crashed Wednesday was caused by illegal debris burning in the town of Cary, according to the state Department of Natural Resources.

    Heath Van Handel, 36, died when the plane he was using to observe the wildfire and radio key information to firefighters crashed in a neighboring farm field.

    The fire burned about two acres, but was quickly controlled by DNR forest fire control crews and firefighters from Pittsville, Rock and Richfield. It was ignited by someone burning without a DNR permit, according to a news release from the department. The investigation by the DNR and Wood County Sheriff's Department is ongoing.

    Eyewitnesses said the plane was flying close to the ground, circling the fire. Investigators aren't sure what caused the crash, DNR Secretary Matt Frank said. Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board authorities continue to investigate.

    "The plane was up there providing support, and at some point it took a steep dive into the ground," Frank said. "We don't have answers at this point."

    The DNR temporarily grounded its planes and pilots Thursday, affecting 10 planes and 11 pilots, said Frank, who didn't say when flights would resume.

    "We are working very closely with the Department of Administration to go over maintenance records to see if we can find anything from that," Frank said. "The DNR and DOA will be cooperating very closely with the Federal Aviation Administration. We are still dealing with the shock of this."

    Wisconsin owns 19 planes, and the DNR leases 11 of them, DOA spokeswoman Emily Winecke said.

    Van Handel was flying a 42-year-old plane normally based in Oshkosh, but it had been stationed in Necedah because of that area's high fire risk, the DNR said.

    He was a former commercial pilot and flight instructor at Kansas State University who joined the DNR in 2006. He was married with two children, ages 4 and 2, Frank said.

    Van Handel was the first DNR pilot to be killed in a crash, DNR spokesman Adam Collins said. A September 1998 plane crash near Tomah killed two DNR staffers and a DOA pilot, who reported smoke in the cabin before the crash.

    With the spring fire season just starting, Frank said the DNR's ability to fight wildfires will not be hampered by the grounding of its planes and pilots.

    "We have excellent working relationships with Minnesota and surrounding states," he said. "If we need some help, we will be asking them."

    All crash information from involved agencies is being funneled to the FAA and NTSB, said Pittsville Fire Chief Jerry Minor, whose department was first to arrive at the wildfire.

    The FAA won't release crash information until the investigation is completed. A preliminary report was filed Thursday, but doesn't provide a cause of the crash.

    A spokesman for the FAA in Chicago did not immediately return a telephone message Thursday.

  • More Information Released About Plane Crash That Killed DNR Pilot

    4/16/2009 | Online Article

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Photos, Videos, & Tributes

  • Wisconsin DNR Press Release: Statement on Van Handel's Passing, 4/8/09

    Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Secretary Matt Frank today issued the following statement after DNR pilot Heath Van Handel died in a plane crash this afternoon.

    "The thoughts and prayers of everyone at DNR are with Heath Van Handel’s wife Jennifer, their children, family and friends during this difficult time. We are deeply saddened over the loss of Heath Van Handel, a colleague and friend to many. Heath Van Handel’s dedication to service and protecting both the citizens and our natural resources is at the core of what we are about as public servants and an agency. He will be deeply missed."
  • From WI Governor Jim Doyle: Statement on State DNR Pilot Heath Van Handel's Passing, 4/8/09

    Governor Jim Doyle today issued the following statement on the passing of Heath Van Handel, the Department of Natural Resources pilot who died in a crash near the Town of Cary this afternoon.

    "Heath Van Handel was a courageous, experienced pilot who was working to protect our citizens and their properties from a fire today. We owe Heath tremendous gratitude for his extraordinary service and dedication. The First Lady and I are praying for him, his wife Jennifer, their children and all the others who love him."
  • Wisconsin State Firefighters Memorial: Heath Van Handel

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