Incident Name: Cayuse Saddle Fire on the Lolo National Forest, MT
Date: July 21, 1979, 1810 hrs
Personnel: 2 lives lost
Agency/Organization: Black Hills Aviation, Spearfish, SD (Later Alamagordo, NM) under contract with the US Forest Service
Position: aerial firefighters
Joe LeRoux of Corvallis MT, 49
Bob Masters of Prescott AZ, 23
On July 21, 1979, the B-17 airtanker was fully loaded; it was toward the end of a day of dropping retardant on a number of Montana fires. There was no lead plane. The tanker made a high pass over a ridgetop fire on the Lolo National Forest. The airtanker crew decided to approach the drop site from a direction that was different from the direction they had used in the previous approach which had terminated in a turn over lower terrain. They returned for the second lower pass. They conducted the approach but dropped no retardant on the fire. Immediately after the airtanker passed over the drop target, it made a steep left turn. The airplane stalled while being maneuvered at a low airspeed and at low altitude in a confined area. It impacted a densely timbered hillside. Joe LeRoux and Bob Masters died on impact.
approximately 10 mi southwest of Superior, MT and 45 mi west of Missoula, MT (Mineral County); pin in Superior MT
[more exact location: near Cayuse Saddle, 8 mi south of Superior, MT]
- Concise Information from the NTSB, FAA, AAP, USFS, LLC, and research by the WLF Staff:
- July 21, 1979, A-10
- 2 killed: Jerome G LeRoux, Robert B Masters
- Operator: Black Hills Aviation of Almagordo, NM; under contract with the US Forest Service
- Type: BOEING B-17G
- Location: 8 mi S of Superior, MT
- FAA Registration # unknown
- NTSB # none
- The investigation was conducted by the US Forest Service, not the NTSB; To check for yourself, consult the NTSB online lookup Utility.
- Forest Service Investigations - Fatal Aviation Accident History (1974-2002): Pages 8 - 10 for this incident (383 K pdf) | Entire History (download 4.72 MB pdf)
- Forest Service Investigation: Speculation on Probable Cause; now known likely to be incorrect.
Analysis of pathology reports tended to support the theory that the Copilot was flying the aircraft at the time of impact. However, no conclusive evidence suggested which pilot initiated the fatal left turn. Toxicology reports indicated alcohol in the Copilot’s stomach (.085 percent) and blood (.072 percent), but not in his urine. The medical examiner estimated that this alcohol level could have been caused by the consumption of two to four beers within 45 minutes prior to the mishap.
Note that since 1979 there has been substantial research showing that alcohol production occurs post-mortem in fiery crashes. Report on Interpretation of Post-Mortem Alcohol in Autopsy (205 K pdf)
- 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)
- Warbird Registry: B-17G Flying Fortress, N66573, Black Hills Aviation, Spearfish, SD (Later Alamagordo, NM), July 15, 1964-1979
- Flew as tanker #A10, #B10, #10.
- Crashed while fire bombing, Cayuse Saddle, MT, July 1979.
- Article naming the fallen:
- Montana Death Index: Jerome Leroux | Robert Masters
From the Warbird Registry.
Contributors to this article: Mellie
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