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Incident Name:  Leggert Fire on the Gila National Forest, NM
Date:  06/27/1998, just after 2020 hrs
Personnel: 2 Lives Lost
Agency/Organization:  Neptune Aviation Services of Missoula MT under contract with the US Forest Service
Position:  aerial firefighters

J. D. Donahue, 57, of Mesa AZ, pilot, but sitting in the right seat at time of the accident
Chuck Key, 59, of Grand Junction CO, copilot, but sitting in the left seat

On June 27, 1998, the crew of N14835 (call sign "Tanker 08") had been engaged in fire fighting operations all day. The first officer, an initial attack trainee pilot, was in the left seat. The pilot in command was in the right seat. Carrying 2,450 gallons of retardant, the airplane had made a dry pass on the fire zone about 2020, then circled around to make a second pass and release its load. According to witnesses, the airplane struck trees while in a nose low, right wing low attitude. Upon ground impact, the airplane exploded and burned. The crew did not survive.

PV-2 Airtanker for type, taken in 1970; photo credit -- from Chris Baird's collection (Arizona Aircraft Wrecks).

PV2 Airtanker for type PV2 Airtanker for type


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about 5 miles West of Reserve, New Mexico; Reserve, NM; no exact location.

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Reports, Documentation, Lessons Learned

  • Concise Information from the NTSB, FAA, USFS, AAP, and research by the WLF Staff:
    • June 27, 1998, Tanker 08
    • 2 killed: J. D. Donahue, Chuck Key
    • Operator: Neptune Aviation of Missoula, MT
    • Type: Lockheed SP-2H (same as Lockheed PV2)
    • impacted trees, then the ground near Reserve, NM
    • FAA registration # N14835
    • NTSB # FTW98GA286
  • National Transportation Safety Board: Probable Cause (html) | Probable Cause (87K pdf)

    Failure of the copilot to maintain both lateral and vertical clearance from the trees, and failure of the captain to provide adequate supervision of the flight.

  • NTSB: Full Narrative
  • National Transportation Safety Board: Factual Report (89K pdf)
  • For more information on this crash, you can search via the NTSB lookup utility: use # FTW98GA286
  • USFS: Fatal Aviation Accident History 2 page Excerpt, pp 35-36 (423 K pdf)| 112 page Full Report (all accidents: 4,017 K pdf)
  • 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)
  • US Forest Service Heroes Memorial: Jerry D Donahue | Charles Key
  • Donahue's and Key's names, death date and brief bio are included in the USFA Firefighter Fatality Retrospective Study, published April 2002 (2,888 K pdf)

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Media Articles and Reports.

  • Firefighting plane crashes; 2 dead in N. M.

    6/29/1998 | AP article

    Reserve NM -An air tanker crashed while fighting a 400 acre fire at the Gila National Forest in SW New Mexico killing the pilot and co-pilot. The tanker dropped half of its loadover the blaze Saturday night and swooped into a bank tro drop its remaining load of chemical retardant when it went down, Gila NF spokesman Jim Paxon said Sunday. (More at the link...)

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Photos, Videos, & Tributes


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Contributors to this article: Tom Janey, aviation historian extraordinare. 

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