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Incident Name:  Mt. Edna fire in the San Jacinto Mountains of Riverside Co, CA
Date:  October 5, 1998, 1236 hours
Personnel: Gary Nagel
Age:  62
Agency/Organization:  CDF now CAL FIRE; Gary worked for San Joaquin Helicopters (SJH) which provided pilot services to CDF
Position: Pilot

Summary: Airtanker Pilot Gary Nagel was killed in the crash of a Grumman TS-2A airtanker (Tanker 96) when he encountered turbulent air (Santa Ana winds), misjudged his maneuvering altitude and impacted the terrain. He had made two drops on the Mount Edna brush fire near Banning, California and was preparing to make a third. Other factors that contributed to the crash were the mountainous terrain, tailwind conditions, and turbulence in the area.

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3,400' MSL west of Mt. Edna, Riverside County, CA

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Reports, Documentation, Lessons Learned

  • Concise Information from the NTSB, FAA, AAP, and research by the WLF Staff:
    • October 5, 1998, Airtanker accident
    • Killed: Gary Nagel
    • Type: Grumman TS-2A
    • impacted mountainous terrain after encountering air turbulence near Banning CA; left wing impacted ground during tight turn to final on high wind, quartering tailwind drop.
    • FAA Registration Number: N416DF
    • NTSB Identification Number: LAX99GA005
  • CDF: Announcement of Gary Nagel's death 
  • National Transportion Safety Board: Factual Report (94 K pdf)
  • National Transportation Safety Board: Probable Cause (html) | Probable Cause (25 K pdf)

    The pilot misjudged his maneuvering altitude. Factors to this accident were the mountainous terrain, tailwind conditions, and turbulence in the area.

  • National Transportion Safety Board: Full Narrative (html)
  • For more information on this crash, visit the NTSB Database Query: NTSB # LAX99GA005
  • 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)
  • USFA Memorial Website: Gary D Nagel
  • 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".)
  • First federal investigation following passage of the Pressler Act First federal investigation following passage of the Pressler Act
  • NTSB: photo credit George Peterson
  • Tanker 95 Tanker 95
    Tanker 95, Tail Tanker 95, Tail
    Tanker 95, crash site Tanker 95, crash site

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Media Articles and Reports.

  • Fires Blacken 28,000 Acres in Riverside

    October 07, 1998 | Online Article

    Firefighters battling on multiple fronts in Riverside County set backfires Tuesday in an attempt to halt blazes that have claimed two lives and consumed 28,000 acres. (snip)

    The Forestry Department identified the dead air tanker pilot as Gary Nagel, 62, of Columbia, Calif., a veteran of 30 years in aviation.
    Nagel was an employee of San Joaquin Helicopters Inc. and was on contract with the department, working out of its air base in Fresno. His wife, Wanda, also is a contract pilot, the Forestry Department said.

    The aircraft Nagel was flying, a Korean War-vintage Grumman S-2, went down at Poppet Flats while fighting the Edna fire. The twin-prop S-2 is a converted Navy patrol plane that carries 800 gallons of fire retardant. (more at the link)

  • Fire pilots’ widows seek their share ; Government death benefits don’t extend to aerial work

    March 3, 2003 | Online Article

    ... Since 1976, the federal Public Safety Officers’ Benefits program has provided millions to families of firefighters and police killed or severely injured in the line of duty. Families currently stand to get about $260,000 in compensation, plus scholarships for the children of fallen officers. Benefits also extend to corrections and parole officers, and to volunteer firefighters and ambulance crews.

    There is one exception: The PSOB doesn’t extend to those who work by contract. Yet many wildfire crews are hired that way, none more frequently than fire pilots and their crews. Those crews rely on contract work as a major source of income since fire managers are reluctant or unable to provide full-time work for aviators. (more at the link)

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Photos, Videos, & Tributes

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Contributors to this article: Tom Janney

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