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Incident Name: Havilah Fire, Sequoia National Forest
Date: August 12, 1988, 1540 hrs
Personnel: Charles V "Chuck" Watkins, of Rialto
Age: 53
Agency/Organization: US Forest Service
Position: Lead-plane pilot, Region 5 Aviation Group South Zone

Summary: The Beechcraft Barron took over lead responsibility on the Havilah Fire, Div A at 1500 hours on August 12, 1988. After leading the airtanker on its second retardant run, the leadplane executed a steep pull-up left climbing turn of 180 degrees possibly to be in position to watch the drop. Something happened, the leadplane stalled and spun to the ground, killing the pilot Chuck Watkins.

Chuck Watkins Memorial Chuck Watkins Memorial
Chuck Watkins Memorial Plaque Chuck Watkins Memorial Plaque

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    For directions to the Chuck Watkins Memorial on the Sequoia NF, go to the bottom of the page. Thanks to the Breckenridge Hotshots and Cheryl and Jim Bauer.

    Chuck Watkins Memorial

    Havilah Fire Map

    Havilah Fire Map Havilah Fire Map

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    Reports, Documentation, Lessons Learned

    • Concise Information from the NTSB, FAA, AAP, USFS and research by the WLF Staff:
      • 8/12/88
      • 1 killed: Chuck Watkins
      • Operator: US Forest Service
      • Type: Beechcraft 58P Baron
      • Location: Stanislaus NF.
      • FAA Registration # unknown
      • NTSB # none
    • The investigation is not in the public National Transportation Safety Board lookup: NTSB online lookup Utility to check for yourself # LAX93T#A01
    • 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)
    • Forest Service Investigations - Fatal Aviation Accident History (1974-2002): Pages 102 & 103 for this incident (339 K pdf) | Entire History (download 4.72 MB pdf)
    • Forest Service investigation Probable Cause
      The cause of this mishap was narrowed down to one of two possibilities. Either the aircraft experienced a left engine (critical engine) malfunction while in a very steep left bank (in excess of 60 degrees) which resulted in a stall/spin or the pilot maneuvered the aircraft into an attitude (steep left bank with slow airspeed) that resulted in a stall/spin.
    • 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 Memorial Heroes Database: Charles V. Watkins

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    Media Articles and Reports

    • LA Times: The State August 15, 1988
      ...the twin-engine Beechcraft "impacted the ground in a near vertical, nose-down position." The crash killed pilot Charles Watkins, 53, of Rialto, a 15-year veteran of the Forest Service.

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    Photos, Videos, & Tributes

    Directions to the Chuck Watkins Memorial:
    • Head south from the community of Lake Isabella on the Bodfish Caliente Road. Proceed approximately 8 miles on a winding 2-lane road that takes 15 to 20 minutes to get to Havilah. Suggestion: drive defensivly on the many blind corners.
    • From Havilah, the old Kern County Seat Courthouse, drive 2.5 miles south on the Bodfish/Caliente Rd to the junction of the Breckenridge Rd or from another reference drive 1.9 miles south from the Havilah Fire Station. You can only make a right turn off the Bodfish onto the Breckenridge Rd.
    • Travel the Breckenridge Rd 7.7 miles to the Memorial sign and take a left (Turnoff lat 35.483627, lon -118.569517)

      Turnoff sign

      Turnoff to Chuck Watkins Memorial Turnoff to Chuck Watkins Memorial

    • This takes you into the signed parking area (Parking lat 35.483627, lon -118.569517). This is .1 mile past the winter road closure gate.

      Chuck Watkins Memorial Chuck Watkins Memorial

    • From the far end of the parking area you can look down the ridge and see the memorial site which is less than 50 yards down the ridge.
    • Info Dan Kleinman collected at the request of Scott Vail: Shows the degree of caring for Chuck by many.
    • Now on the USFA Memorial database, but no details on his death yet: Charles V. Watkins

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    Contributors to this article: Breckenridge Hotshots, Adam Sanders, Supt; Matt Ball, Squadboss; Scott Vail; Jim Bauer; Cheryl Bauer; Jack Lee, IC on the Havilaugh Fire; old SQF fireman; JR; Dan Kleinman; Mike Russ; John Miller, Bill Bruno and others, truely a Team effort.


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