Incident Name: Smith Creek Fire, Big Horn National Forest, Sheridan WY
Personnel: 2 lives lost
Agency/Organization: Cessna owned by Bighorn Airways under contract with the US Forest Service
Position: aerial firefighter pilot and fire observer
Douglas Cuzzort, Pilot
Gene A. Ahrendt, Forest Service Observer
The fire reconnaissance air patrol plane was flown into a narrow box canyon where the ridges were obscured by clouds and fog. Cuzzort apparently realized the airplane could not climb out of the canyon and attempted to turn around. The canyon was only 1,200 feet wide at this location. The airplane stalled and spun into a steep slope.
About one half of a mile south of the Smith Creek Fire, seven miles west of Dayton, WY; The immediate vicinity of the mishap was a steep box canyon approximately 1,200 feet to 1,300 feet wide at the mishap elevation of 7,200 feet MSL
Approximate location 7 mi west of Dayton WY
- Concise Information from the NTSB, FAA, AAP, USFS and research by the WLF Staff:
- 2 killed: Gene A. Ahrendt; and pilot Douglas Cuzzort
- Operator: Bighorn Airways under contract with the US Forest Service
- Type: CESSNA T210
- Location: Big Horn National Forest.
- FAA Registration # unknown
- The National Transportation Safety Board did not investigate this accident.
- Forest Service Investigations - Fatal Aviation Accident History (1974-2002): Pages 93 & 94 for this incident (318 K pdf) | Entire History (download 4.72 MB pdf)
- FS Investigation: Probable Cause
The probable cause of this mishap was the pilot failing to maintain altitude and airspeed, causing the airplane to stall and enter a spin. The pilot attempted to turn out of the canyon, which was too narrow to accommodate the required radius of turn without stalling the aircraft. The low cloud ceiling did not allow a climb out of the canyon under visual flight conditions. The pilot entered the canyon under conditions that made a safe exit difficult or impossible.
- In case more info becomes available and/or you'd like to search for yourself, consult the online NTSB lookup Utility
- 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)
- 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".)
- USFS Heroes Memorial: Gene A Ahrendt
- Wyoming Fallen Firefighters Memorial: Gene Ahrendt | Douglas Cuzzort
- USFA Memorial Database: Gene A Ahrendt
Contributors to this article: John Miller, Mellie
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