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Entries in Neptune Aviation (11)

Wednesday
Jun132012

First report says pilots may have lost contact with spotter plane before UT crash

Tanker 11- Neptune Aviation file photo(CEDAR CITY, UT)- A preliminary report released by federal investigators suggests the crew that died when their air tanker went down in Utah last week lost sight of the lead firefighting plane before they crashed.

The crash on June 3rd killed the 48-year old pilot Todd Tompkins and 40-year old co-pilot Ronnie Chambless who both worked for Missoula-based Neptune Aviation.

The crash renewed concerns about the safety of the nation’s aging air tanker fleet and the Lookheed P2-V planes in particular. However, the preliminary report issued by NTSB investigators suggests the crash may have been caused by poor conditions or human error, rather than any mechanical problems with the aircraft, However, the agency hasn’t ruled out mechanical problems at this early stage of the investigation.

Initial information shows the lead “spotter” plane was at about 150’ in elevation and made a turn to the right toward the final drop area. But “Tanker 11” hit “rising terrain that was about 700 feet left of the lead airplane’s flight path” striking the mountainside, according to the reported being quoted by Reuters.

This first report doesn’t indicate whether heavy smoke the half-mile-wide valley may have caused the Neptune tanker to lose sight of the spotter plane.

It usually takes about a year for the NTSB to finish a final crash investigation, taking the time to review all of the information, including data from the cockpit flight recorder, which was recovered from “Tanker 11.” 

Thursday
Jun072012

Neptune confident investigators will find cause for fatal crash

(MISSOULA)- Even as plans are being made for memorials for the two aviators killed in the crash of a fire bomber in Utah, Neptune Aviation is confident investigators will be able to sort out why the plane went down.

It’s expected to be several months before the National Transportation Safety Board determines why “Tanker 11”, one of Neptune’s fleet of P2V planes, crashed while fighting a fire in the rugged terrain of western Utah Sunday.

The crash took the lives of the pilot, Captain Todd Neal Tompkins and First Officer Edwin Chambless, both from Boise. Both men had thousands of hours in the air. In fact Tompkins had flown over 6000 hours in a 14-year career fighting fires all over the country.

Neptune officials said Tuesday they’re helping the families of the two men in the aftermath of the accident, as plans being made for a memorial service.

In the meantime, the company says it’s cooperating with NTSB investigators, releasing maintenance records and other data on Tanker 11. And despite the fact the plane crashed in the fire zone, Neptune is certain the plane’s cockpit voice recorder survived the fire and will provide clues as to what may have gone wrong.

There are no voice recordings of the radio traffic between Tanker 11 and the fire managers, and the command aircraft was actually flying in front of the Neptune plane and didn’t have a direct view when it went down. There was one confirmed witness on the ground.

Neptune’s planes were grounded following the accident Sunday per company policy, but have since returned to the air, including two company planes still working the same fire out of Cedar City.

The accident has renewed debate over the aging P2V planes, but Neptune stands by the safety of the aircraft. Neptune now flies over 80% of the fire missions for the Forest Service and BLM and the company says they represented over 2500-hours of firefighting last season without any accidents.

At the same time, Neptune officials say they’re ready to move forward with the “next gen” tankers, like the jet they’ve already deployed which is being used on New Mexico fires on an interim basis. 

Tuesday
Jun052012

Accidents cut supply of air tankers as fire season begins

Neptune jet featured on company's website(MISSOULA)- Sunday’s crash of a Neptune Aviation fire place in Utah, and an emergency landing by another company’s plane in Nevada means there are only 9 flyable fire bombers left in the entire country, even as the 2012 fire season is just getting started.

Two crew members from Boise were killed Sunday when Neptune’s “Tanker 11” went down near the Utah-Nevada border after experiencing problems as it was making its second retardant run of the day. A Minden Air Corp plane, also one of the aging P2V tankers, had to make an emergency landing in Western Nevada Sunday morning when part of its landing gear failed to deploy.

That leaves the Forest Service with only 9 large tankers under contract to fight fires for the entire country. With Tanker 11 destroyed in Sunday’s crash, and the Minden plane suffering major damage in the emergency landing, the agency has just 8-conventional tankers and Neptune’s jet-powered tanker on contract. And the jet, known as the BAe-146, is seeing its first work on an “interim basis” after undergoing extensive tests in Missoula last year.

By comparison, the Forest Service had 44-tankers a decade ago for the 2002 fire season.

The agency had solicited proposals for “next generation” tankers like the Neptune jet. That process closed back in February but the Forest Service has yet to make any decisions about putting those any new planes on line, with the exception of using the Neptune jet this summer. 

Sunday
Jun032012

Tanker crashes fighting fire on Utah border

(IRON COUNTY, UT)- Authorities in Utah are confirming that an air tanker crashed Sunday afternoon while helping to fight a lightning-caused fire on the border with Nevada. 

KSL TV reports the plane went down around 2 p.m. Sunday while working the 5,000 acre White Rock Fire. The blaze started in Nevada and spread across the border in rough terrain on Saturday. 

The Bureau of Land Management tells KSL they aren't sure what problem caused the plane to go down. Iron County rescue teams hadn't reached the crash site by early Sunday evening and they have no information on the number of crew on board, or their injuries. The Salt Lake Tribune was reporting that two people died in the crash.

The Missoulian was reporting the plane was an older P2V tanker operated by Missoula-based Neptune Aviation.

Saturday
May262012

Neptune takes next step with jet-powered tanker for firefighting

Neptune Aviation's website has been proudly displaying photos of the new jet tanker(MISSOULA)- It's flying with "interim approval", but Neptune Aviation's new jet-powered tanker is being moved into service, leaving Missoula Saturday enroute to help with fires in New Mexico.

The BAe-146 is considered a "next generation air tanker", and if it proves out could help in replacing an aging, and diminishing fleet of prop-powered aircraft that have been the backbone of the wildfire fighting for the past several decades. The jet saw extensive testing here in Missoula over the past year.

The blog Wildfiretoday.com is reporting the Neptune jet left Missoula Saturday morning under a new Forest Service contract that runs through October 5th. Forest Service officials have said they want to see how the new plane performs in actual aerial attacks on wildfires. Neptune has indicated it could buy as many as 11 of the new jets in the coming years if they get final certification from the Forest Service. 

WildfireToday.com was also reporting the jet came on line as Neptune had to park one of its P2V tankers this week. That's the same plane that was grounded because cracks developed in the skin of the aircraft and on a section of the wing last winter. 

Even with the Neptune jet coming online on a trial basis, there's still a shortage of heavy tankers this fire season, with only 11-planes currently on the Forest Service contract roster.