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Incident Name: in transit from CA to home base in AZ
Date: December 2, 1980
Personnel: 2 lives lost
Agency/Organization:  under contract with the US Forest Service
Position: crew of one of the airtankers (T1)


Clyde Alford, 50
Ron Letnes, 28

Airtankers “T1” and “T2”, both Douglas Commercial (DC) DC-4s, departed the Hemet-Ryan Airport in California at 1322 hours Pacific Standard Time (PST) and 1323 PST, respectively. Both airtankers recently had been released by the Forest Service from southern California fire assignments and were headed for their home base in Tucson, Arizona. While in flight the crew of T1 began to photograph T2. During maneuvers for the aerial photography, T1's vertical stabillizer struck T2's right wing flaps. T1's vertical stabilizer separted on impact, the tail section then separated, and the airplane descended out of control. Clyde Alford and Ron Letnes of T1 were fatally injured. The other AT -- T2 -- was substantially damaged but landed at Palm Springs, CA without further incident.

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Near Indio, CA

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Reports, Documentation, Lessons Learned

  • Concise Information from the NTSB, FAA, AAP, USFS, and research by the WLF Staff:
    • December 2, 1980, Tankers 118 and 119 collided midair; T118 landed OK but T119 crashed
    • 2 killed: Clyde Alford, Ron Letnes
    • Operator: unknown but of Tucson AZ; T1 under contract with the US Forest Service; T2 under contract with Office of Aircraft Services (OAS)
    • Type: Douglas Commercial (DC) DC-4s
    • Location: near Indio, CA
    • FAA Registration # none
    • NTSB # none
    • There was no NTSB investigation
  • Forest Service Investigations - Fatal Aviation Accident History (1974-2002): Pages 11 & 12 for this incident (283 K pdf) | Entire History (download 4.72 MB pdf)
  • FS Investigation: Probable Cause

    The investigation concluded that whomever was actually flying T1 permitted the airtanker to collide with T2, resulting in the loss of the tail of T1, and the subsequent total loss of T1.

  • NTSB online lookup Utility in case information becomes available.
  • 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)
  • Aviation Safety Network, Flight Safety Database: Douglas C-54
  • California Death Index: Ronald Kimbrough Letnes | Clyde Waymond Alford
  • US Social Security Death Index: Ronald Letnes | Clyde Alford

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Media Articles and Reports

  • Firefighting planes collide, two killed

    12/3/1980 | UPI news article

    San Bernardino, CA -- Two airtankers used to bombard flames during the devastating Southern California brushfires collided on their return to Arizona yesterday, killing two men in a fiery crash. The four-engine propeller-driven planes, civilian-owned aircraft -- under contract to the US Forest Service to dump water and fire retardant on brush fires-- collided yesterday afternoon over Indio, CA.

    Officials said the airtankers, which collided as one of the planes passed over the other during a picture taking exercise, made contact while one was above the other. The reason for the photo-taking maneuver was not known.

    One of the converted E-54 aircraft made an emergency landing at nearby Palm Springs Airport, about 120 miles east of Los Angeles. Pilot Ken White, 56, and copilot Gary Garrett, 41, both of Tucson, were uninjured.

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Photos, Videos, & Tributes



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