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Incident Name: taking off for Smitty Fire
Date: 09/01/2008, 1735 hrs
Personnel: 3 Lives Lost (see below)
Age:
Agency/Organization: Tanker 09, was registered to Neptune Aviation Services Inc., of Missoula, Montana. (NTSB factual report) The airtanker was one of 19 heavy airtankers under contract by the US Forest Service. (FS Briefing paper) It was taking off to go to a California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE) fire at the time of the accident. (from the NTSB factual report and the FS 24- and 72-hour reports)
Position:

Summary:
Calvin Gene Wahlstrom, Chief Pilot, Age 61 from Huntsville UT
Gregory Jess Gonsioroski, Co-Pilot, Age 41 from Baker MT
Zachary Jake Vander-Griend, Crew Chief, Age 25 from Missoula MT

The aircraft involved in this incident was a Lockheed P2V-7 airplane that was built in 1962. The crew was dispatched to provide a water drop on a wildland fire burning in Calaveras County, California. The flight originated at the Reno/Stead (4SD) Airport, in Reno, Nevada. They had previously been on the Burnside Fire on the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest and were reassigned to the Smitty Fire in Calaveras County, CA on the Tuolumne-Calaveras Administrative Unit.

An air tanker base employee who witnessed the accident reported observing the airplane taxi to Runway 32 “...and everything appeared normal.” The witness reported watching the airplane takeoff, and at an elevation estimated to be between 100 to 300 feet above the ground, he observed the left jet engine emitting flames, followed by the left wing being engulfed in flames. The witness further reported that about 2 seconds later the airplane entered a left wing down attitude before impacting terrain and bursting into flames.

Gene, Gonzo and Zack, photos credits: friends and family.

Gene Wahlstrom Gene Wahlstrom
'Gonzo' Greg Gonsioroski 'Gonzo' Greg Gonsioroski
Gonzo in Cockpit Gonzo in Cockpit
Zack Vander-Griend Zack Vander-Griend
P2V Tanker 09 P2V Tanker 09

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Maps

Final resting place of Tanker 09

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Reports, Documentation, Lessons Learned

  • From Harv Forsgren, USFS Intermountain Regional Forester:

    By now, you all are aware of the crash of Tanker-09, a P2V aircraft owned by Neptune Aviation, at the Stead Airport north of Reno, Nevada on Labor Day evening. Tanker-09 crashed shortly after take-off killing the three crew members on board. Pilot Gene Wahlstrom, a well know figure to us here in Region 4, Co-pilot Greg Gonsioroski from Baker, MT and mechanic Zachary Vander-Griend from Missoula, MT and Gig Harbor, WA were the three crew members killed.

    The crash occurred around 6 p.m. Monday as the plane took off to support a CAL-Fire incident in California. The aircraft had dropped a load of retardant on the Burnside Fire in Hope Valley - Carson Ranger District, Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest - earlier that day.

    Pilot Gene Wahlstrom was a Forest Service pilot for many years -- serving as both a lead plane pilot and Smokejumper pilot. In his last assignmentwith the Forest Service, Gene was the supervisory pilot for the infrared program based here in Ogden. Gene is survived by his wife Joyce who retired from the Regional Office Budget and Finance staff in 2004. Gene and Joyce remained in the Ogden area after retiring from the Forest Service and made their home in Hunstville, Utah.

    Gene's funeral will likely be early next week -- perhaps as soon as Monday. Our thoughts and prayers are with the families and friends of the deceased.

    We continue to encourage each of you to do all you need to do to manage risk of tragic outcomes for yourself and co-workers.

    Harv Forsgren, Regional Forester Intermountain Region

  • Information from the NTSB, FAA, USFS, and AAP:
    • Sept. 1, 2008 - NV Tanker 09
    • 3 killed: Gene Wahlstrom, Zachary Jake Vander Griend, Gregory Gonsioroski
    • Operator: Neptune Aviation
    • Type: Lockheed P2V-7/SP-2H
    • impact with ground just after takeoff, north of Reno-Stead Airport, NV
    • FAA Registration # N4235T
    • NTSB # SEA08GA194
  • National Transportion Safety Board: Factual Report (124 K pdf)
  • National Transportion Safety Board: Probable Cause (html) | Probable Cause (26 K pdf)

    "The initial onsite examination revealed that about 500 feet from the departure end of Runway 32, several identifiable pieces of the airplane's left jet engine were located. It was also revealed that prior to impacting terrain the airplane had collided with a set of powerlines, estimated to be about 50 feet high. An initial ground impact scar was observed about 25 feet west of the powerlines, followed by the airplane's energy path proceeding in a westerly direction, covering a measured distance of about 755 feet on a magnetic heading of 250 degrees."

  • NTSB: Full Narrative (html)
  • For additional information about this crash, consult the NTSB Query Web Page: Use date and Registration # N4235T.
  • Initial Briefing from the US Forest Service: 24 HR Release (39K pdf)
  • Expanded Briefing from the USFS, Inlcuding Prelemanery Factual Findings: 72 HR Release (12K pdf)
  • FY 2008 FS Aviation Accident review powerpoint: Mission
    • ..This mission was under the jurisdictional authority of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.
    • ..On September 1, 2008, the crew was on its first day of assignment to Stead Air Attack Base located at, Reno/Stead airport to support Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest operations on the Burnside fire. They had completed one retardant mission on the Burnside Fire. At 5:35 pm, Stead Air Attack Base received a dispatch to fly retardant on the Smitty fire.

      An air tanker base employee who witnessed the accident reported observing the airplane taxi to Runway 32 "...and everything appeared normal."

      The witness reported watching the airplane takeoff, and at an elevation estimated to be between 100 Reno Stead Airport to 300 feet above the ground, he observed the left jet engine emitting flames, followed by the left wing being engulfed in flames.

    • ..The witness further reported that about 2 seconds later the airplane entered a left wing down attitude before impacting terrain and bursting into flames.
    • ..The initial onsite examination revealed that about 500 feet from the departure end of Runway 32, several identifiable pieces of the airplane's left jet engine were located.

      It was also revealed that prior to impacting terrain the airplane had collided with a set of power-lines, estimated to be about 50 feet high.

      The damage assessment also revealed that the airplane had sustained significant fragmentation and thermal damage throughout the debris path.

    • ..Visual meteorological conditions prevailed for the Public Use air drop flight, which was being operated in accordance with 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 137, and a company flight plan was filed and activated. The flight was originating at the time of the accident.
  • US Forest Service Heroes Memorial: Wahlstrom | Gonsioroski | Vander-Griend

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WLF Links:

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Media Articles and Reports.

  • Breaking News: Crew Killed in Tanker Crash

    9/1/2008 | Online Article

    RENO - A P2V Neptune multi-engine tanker has crashed outside of the Stead Airport north of Reno. A spokesman for the Federal Aviation Administration says everyone onboard was killed.

    The twin-engine air tanker crashed just after its 6:11 p.m. takeoff about a half-mile from the runway, according to FAA spokesman Ian Gregor. Preliminary reports from witnesses suggest the tanker lost a piece of its engine or a wing before it caught fire and went down, Gregor says. The airplane was carrying two or three people, and there were no survivors from the crash, he says.

    Sierra Front spokesman Mark Struble said the tanker was working on the Hope Valley fire earlier in the day and had been released.

    Witnesses on the scene say the back engines were on fire as it crashed into power lines. Sierra Pacific says 1,740 customers in Cold Springs, Red Rock, and Silver Knolls lost power as a result. All customers should have power restored sometime Monday night.

  • Plane crash confirmed near Stead

    9/1/2008 | rgj.com -No longer online

    An airport official has confirmed a plane crash near the Reno Stead Airport.

    About 6 p.m. Monday, authorities were notified of something that sounded like an explosion.

    Later, reports expressed concerns that it may have been a Nevada firefighting air tanker with two people on board. The tanker may have been headed to fight an unspecified fire in California.

    Airport spokesman Brian Kulpin confirmed a crash but said it occurred off the property of the Reno Stead Airport.

    "That's all we know at this point," Kulpin said.

    An eyewitness told KOLO-TV Channel 8 said that she saw the back of the plane's engine on fire and a wing on fire before the plane crashed. It also appeared the plane struck a power pole and tumbled, the witness said.

    Crews received reports that large pieces of debris were found in the area of the crash. The airport manager was headed to the scene with possible information on the aircraft and its occupants.

    A brush fire also was reported, but no homes were threatened. Smoke could be seen from miles away, but the fire is now out. Law enforcement officials were trying to keep motorists away and passersby away from the rural crash site. RGJ.com readers reported power out in the Cold Springs area and fire.

    The Federal Aviation Administration is being notified.

  • Missoula man among 3 killed in crash
    9/4/2008 | Online article

    The three men who died in Reno, Nev., Monday evening in the crash of an air tanker all worked for Missoula's Neptune Aviation. The three were identified Wednesday by the Washoe County, Nev., coroner's office as 25-year-old Zachary Jake Vander Griend, of Missoula; 41-year-old Greg Gonsioroski, of Baker; and the company's chief pilot, Gene Wahlstrom, 61, of Hunstville, Utah.

    Wahlstrom spent a lot of time in Missoula, but his family had its permanent home in Utah.

    The men were all aboard Neptune Tanker 09 as it rumbled out of Reno-Stead Airport to drop a load of fire retardant on a small fire burning in Calaveras County, Calif. The plane, piloted by Wahlstrom, crashed shortly after taking off and experiencing fire in one of its engines.

    The crash came as a stunning blow to the company and its employees. (more at the link...)

  • Locals mourn loss of tanker crew (socal)

    9/13/2008 | Online article

    The crew members of an air tanker who died in a crash near Reno helped fight the 2007 Zaca Fire in Santa Barbara County and the more recent Tepusquet Canyon brush fires in August, and their deaths have touched a nerve in the local firefighting community.

    Air Tanker 09 Captain Calvin BGeneC Wahlstrom, 61, First Officer Greg BGonzoC Gonsioroski, 41, and Zachary Vander Griend, 25, died Sept. 1 while trying to drop fire retardant on a California fire. At the Santa Maria Air Attack Base, employees are still mourning. (more at the link...)

  • Fatal Air Tanker Crash in Nevada

    9/2/2008 | No longer online

    National Transportation Safety Board (NTB) investigators said on the scene that an engine fire broke out just after takeoff, sending the aerial tanker rolling into the ground about a half-mile from the end of the runway.

    Tom Little, lead investigator for the NTSB said two witnesses saw an engine on fire and that accident investigators recovered several large pieces of metal away from the crash site that appear to have come from the burning engine. "It appears it had disintegrated and subsequently left the aircraft. We know there was a fire on board the aircraft," Little told reporters at the airport.

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Photos, Videos, & Tributes

  • Greg "Gonzo" Service (250 pdf)
  • In Memory of Greg Gonsioroski (html) No longer online.
  • Short Memorial Video of Greg Gonsioroski's Life (music by his brother, 12 min.) No longer online.
  • Services for each: locations, dates, times.
  • Tribute to Fallen Wildland Firefighters from the Congressional Record
  • Tanker 09 at Fox Field in 2007: YouTube Video
  • Smokejumper Obituary: Calvin "Gene" Wahlstrom
  • Ben Lomand High School Memorial page for Gene Wahlstrom
  • USFA Memorial Database: Calvin Gene Wahlstrom | Gregory Jess Gonsioroski | Zachary Jake Vander-Griend
  • Nevada Fallen Firefighters Memorial: Calvin Gene Wahlstrom, Gregory Jess Gonsioroski, Zachary Jake Vander-Griend (no longer online)
  • 7/2/2009, sent in by Norm Silver who said, "Hopefully this move will assist the families of the deceased aviators."

    CAL FIRE Director Del Walters Signs PSOB Application for three Neptune Pilot

    Sent: Thursday, July 02, 2009 4:38 PM

    Subject: Director Del Walters Signs PSOB Application for three Neptune Pilots

    I was invited to sit in a meeting this morning with Neptune Aviation and Director Del Walters. Several executives from Neptune flew to Sacramento to meet with Chief Walters and secure his official signature declaring that the three man crew was in-fact, performing the duties as a designated official, that being a fire pilot flight crew.

    Chief Walters signed three Federal PSOB certificates, one for each crew member, for submittal to the US Department of Justice.

    The aircraft was dispatched on a CAL FIRE Order Number to a fire south of Lake Tahoe from Reno Stead Airport.

    I am very proud of CAL FIRE and Chief Walters assisting the fire pilot community and signing off the certificates as the submitting agency.

    All firefighting pilots should also know that the CDF Firefighters Union has worked hard at the State level with the California Professional Firefighters and at the National level with the IAFF (International Association Firefighters) to lobby congress to assist in securing PSOB benefits from the Feds. Several meetings on this topic have occurred here in Sacramento and in Washington DC on this subject.

    Dave Wardall

Tanker 09 Tanker 09

From They Said It September 1, 2009:. Scroll down to 9/1.

Ab,

It's been 1 year since Gene, Gonzo and Zach were taken from us. The crew of Tanker 09 represented all that is good in Fire Aviation and our Fire Family as a whole.

Gene, skilled pilot and seasoned mentor.

Gonzo, dedicated father and fire fighter.

Zach, a young man who represented the best and brightest of us...

All three tragically taken from us one year ago today. And all three, as well as their families have been in my thoughts and prayers every day since...

Attached are pictures of the T-09 Memorial at Stead Air Attack Base. Neptune Aviation donated the prop and BLM Nevada sponsored the construction of the water fountain. Base personnel and volunteers provided the labor. We encourage all who pass this way to stop in and say hi.

Best Regards,
Michael Bassett
Stead Assistant Base Manager

 

Tanker 09 Memorial at Stead Air Attack Base Tanker 09 Memorial at Stead Air Attack Base
Tanker 09 Memorial Plaque at Stead Air Attack Base Tanker 09 Memorial Plaque at Stead Air Attack Base
Tanker 09 Memorial at Stead Air Attack Base Tanker 09 Memorial at Stead Air Attack Base
Tanker 09 Propeller Tanker 09 Propeller
 
Tanker 09 Propeller at Stead Air Attack Base Tanker 09 Propeller at Stead Air Attack Base
 

P2V Airtanker for type of airtanker. Photo credit Mike Meadows:

P2V Airtanker P2V Airtanker

 

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Contributors to this article:  Michael Bassett, Mellie, Norm

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