Incident Name: Fire near Hubbards Fork, KY, Daniel Boone National Forest
Date: March 5, 1983, 1745 hours
Personnel: William L. Smothers
Agency/Organization: Dennis Lynch of MT owned the plane; under contract with the US Forest Service
Summary: On March 5, 1983 earlier in the day, William Smothers, pilot of the air tanker had been making retardant drops on fires on the Cherokee National Forest in Tennessee. A late developing fire near Hubbards Fork, Kentucky necessitated another dispatch. Smothers arrived on scene and checked in with the lead aircraft circling overhead. The tanker made 2 runs over the fire area following the lead aircraft. After the second run, the tanker banked left on a level turn to make another run without using the lead aircraft. During the third run the airtanker struck trees near the top of a 1800 ft ridgeline and plummeted into a ravine 1600 feet below. William Smothers did not survive the impact.
photo credit unknown, but came from the Douglas A/B Invader website (If anyone knows more, please let us know.)
Hubbards Fork, Clay County, Kentucky
- Concise Information from AAP, WLF Staff research:
- March 5, 1983, 1745 hours, Glew as tanker #01
- 1 killed: William L. Smothers, Pilot
- Operator: Dennis Lynch, Owner; Billings/Logan Airport, Billings, MT
- Type: Douglas B-26C
- Left from Ashville NC for fire near Hubbards Fork, Clay County, KY
- FAA Registration # N4060A
- NTSB # ATL83FA127
- Forest Service Investigations - Fatal Aviation Accident History (1979-2000): Pages 15 & 16 for this incident (39 K pdf) | Entire History (download 4.72 MB pdf)
After studying the factual information gathered in the course of the investigation, the investigativeteam concluded that the mishap of the airtanker was due to an undetermined cause. They presented two hypotheses.
- National Transportation Safety Board: Probable Cause (html) | Probable Cause (pdf)
The pilot and aircraft had been fighting forest fires earlier in the day. A late developing fire necessitated another dispatch. The aircraft arrived on scene and checked in with the lead aircraft circling overhead coordinating the fire fighting efforts. The tanker made 2 runs over the fire area following the lead aircraft. After the second run, the aircraft banked left on a level turn to make another run without using the lead aircraft. During the third run the airtanker struck trees near the top of a 1800 ft ridgeline. Witnesses on the ground remarked how low the aircraft was. According to the pilot's peers, he took pride in doing his job well and always strove to put the chemical right on target. There had beem occasions in the past where this zeal to succeed had resulted in his going lower than the 150 foot AGL mininum altitude mandated by forestry service regs. He had, on occasion, returned to base with tree foliage stuck in his aircraft.
- NTSB: Factual Report (pdf)
- For further search, NTSB: Aviation Database Query Page, Accident Number ATL83FA127
- 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)
- In memory of the fallen firefighters of KY: Members of the Route 377 Volunteer Fire Department in Northeastern Kentucky acquired the inactive 80' tall Hickory Flats Fire Lookout Tower with a ground cabin where the towerman with the U.S Forest Service or CCC lookout lived while on duty. It was made by the Aeromotor company that made windmills and was part of the old Cumberland National Forest system (now the Daniel Boone NF). Mr Jim Getz donated the tower in 2002 and 1/2 acre site which he acquired through a land swap/purchase with the FS in the early 80's. The fire department and friends raised the money to purchase access to the site and to make the repairs to the ground house and the cab's windows and floorboards. "The tower and grounds will be dedicated in the memory of Kentucky firefighters who have lost their lives attacking wildfires across the commonwealth."
- USFA Memorial Database: William L Smothers
- US Forest Service Heroes Memorial: William L Smothers
Contributors to this article: Tim Stubbs (NMAirbear); Danny Blevins for his work on the fire lookout memorial, John Miller, Rene Vanderhooft
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