Incident Name: Northrop fire in Kern County, but crashed on the Fort Fire on the ANF while enroute to the Northrop
Date: 8/13/1994, approximately 1330 hrs
Personnel: 3 lives lost
Agency/Organization: Hemet Valley Flying Service under contract with CDF, now CAL FIRE, leased by the USFS
Position: pilots and engineer
Robert L Buc, Pilot
Joe Johnson, Co-Pilot
Shawn Zaremba, Flight Engineer
On August 13, 1994, Tanker 82, a C-130 air tanker based at Ryan Air Attack Base at the request of CDF was headed to dump retardant in fires in Kern County near the Tehachapi Mountains, CA. It crashed in a remote area on the Angeles National Forest. Bob Buc, Joe Johnson, and Shawn Zaremba, the flight crew from the Hemet Valley Flying Service, were killed in the crash.
This crash was investigated again following the structural failures of Tanker 123 and Tanker 130 in 2002. These led the US Forest Service on May 10, 2004 to abruptly terminate the contracts for the entire large tanker fleet.
(Probable cause of the crash of a C-130 airtanker in France (Sept 6, 2000) was not structural failure but may have been morning sunlight in the pilot's eyes or cockpit distraction.)
crash location was "on the north face of Pleasant View Ridge, near Pechner Canyon, about the 6,500-foot level"
another visual location: on the side of Pallet Mountain, about 25 miles south of Palmdale in the Angeles National Forest; the mountainside near Devil’s Punchbowl, a Los Angeles County park known for its unusual rock formations.
- Concise Information from the NTSB, FAA, USFS, AAP, and research by the WLF Staff:
- August 13, 1994 - Tanker 82
- 3 killed: Robert L Buc, Joe Johnson, Shawn Zaremba
- Operator: Hemet Valley Flying Service, under contract with CDF
- Type: Lockheed C-130A
- impacted mountainous terrain near Pearblossom, CA
- FAA Registration # N135FF
- NTSB # LAX94FA323
- National Transportation and Safety Board (NTSB): Factual Report (90 K pdf)
- NTSB: Probable Cause (html) | Probable Cause (26 K pdf)
While in level flight, the airplane's right wing separated and, during the separation sequence, wing fuel ignited. Subsequent laboratory examination of right-side, center-wing fragments revealed two fatigue cracks that propagated to overstress fractures. One of the cracks was within the underside wing skin below a doubler, and the other was within the doubler itself. The total size and origin of the fatigue regions could not be determined due to damage to fracture surfaces and a lack of available material. The airplane was delivered new to the U.S. Air Force in December 1957 and was retired from military service in 1986. In May 1990, the FAA issued a restricted-category special airworthiness certificate authorizing the airplane to dispense aerial fire retardant. At the time of the accident, the airplane had a total of 20,289 flight hours, 19,547 of which were acquired during its military service. The inspection and maintenance programs used by the operator, which were based on military standards, included general visual inspections for cracks but did not include enhanced or focused inspections of highly stressed areas, such as the wing sections, where the fatigue cracks that led to those accidents were located. The operator did not possess the engineering expertise necessary to conduct studies and engineering analysis to define the stresses associated with the firefighting operating environment and to predict the effects of those stresses on the operational life of the airplanes.
The National Transportation Safety Board determines the probable cause(s) of this accident as follows: the inflight failure of the right wing due to fatigue cracking in the underside right wing skin and overlying doubler. A factor contributing to the accident was inadequate maintenance procedures to detect fatigue cracking.
- National Transportation and Safety Board: Full Narrative (html)
- For more information consult the NTSB website, NTSB Identification: LAX94FA323
- Forest Service Investigations - Fatal Aviation Accident History (1979-2000): Pages 29-31 for this incident (337 K pdf) | Entire History (download 4.72 MB pdf)
- *UPDATE in 1999* From The Investigation Process Research Resource (IPRR.org) Site: Investigations of the Loss of Lockheed C130A Tanker 82 (Previously published in Wildfire 8:2, February 1999 and in the Journal of World Investigators Network, Spring 1999.)
This paper briefly outlines the investigation and the re-investigation of the crash of a C-130 Hercules firefighting airplane that crashed in 1994 in the mountains of California while enroute to a fire call. The aircraft was destroyed and the crew of three were lost. A government investigation reported in 1995 that fuel had probably leaked in the center wing section and was ignited by electrical wire arcing. Three years after the mishap, in 1997, an investigative team climbed to the undisturbed wreckage site to re-examine the evidence. What they did not find, lead to reconstruction and re-examination of critical aspects of the event, and resulted in quite another conclusion. That independent investigation suggests another series of factors than the fuel-ignition-explosion scenario, and asserts that the evidence strongly supports an event in which inflight structural failure precluded the ignition of wing tank fuel. The compromise of major wing skin structure, set in motion a rapid chain of in-flight breakup events, in which the wing fuel ignition was simply most noticeable by ground and other airborne witnesses. (For the paper itself, read the report at the link.)
As for the crashes of the C-130's, I think this was the first. After the Minden crash (T-130 on the Cannon Fire near Walker, CA 2002) and one other (T-123 on the Big Elk Fire near Lyons, CO 2002) - the NTSB went back to this site in November, 2003. Re-examination of the wreckage pieces found the fatigue cracks that lead to this tragic crash. RetFSFireCop
- Crash Kills 3 Aboard Firefighting Aircraft : Accident: Loaded C-130 tanker was on its way to a blaze. It breaks into pieces in a rugged part of the Antelope Valley.
August 14, 1994 | Online Article
A C-130 firefighting aircraft on its way to a blaze in Kern County exploded in midair Saturday, killing the three people on board and sending a huge fireball vaulting into the sky after the plane crashed in rugged canyon country in the Antelope Valley, authorities said.
The aircraft, which was carrying fire retardant, broke into pieces and sparked two small brush fires on the side of Pallet Mountain, about 25 miles south of Palmdale in Angeles National Forest. (more at the link)
... The C-130 that went down Saturday was en route to a brush fire in central Kern County believed to have been started by lightning. The Northrop fire, which burned 75 acres, was contained Saturday afternoon...
- Were Firefighting Planes Poorly Maintained?
1/7/1996 | Online Article
A year after two fatal crashes, Forest Service inspectors warned that the airplanes used to fight fires were being poorly maintained by inexperienced mechanics. The warnings last summer prompted Forest Service officials to appoint an internal team of aviation experts to review the allegations of "serious inadequacies" in the air tanker program... (more at the link... but also read the IPRR.org Document under "Reports".)
- Monument at Hemet Ryan Air Attack Base CA
Tanker 82, a Lockheed C-130 Hercules, which went down on August 13, 1994, while enroute to a fire in Kern County.
August 13, 1994
In memory of the Flight Crew of AT 82 who gave their lives in the line of duty.
Bob Buc, Pilot
Joe Johnson, Co-pilot
Shawn Zaremba, Flight Engineer
On June 17, 1995 an airtanker memorial was dedicated at
Ryan Air Attack Base, in the public viewing area, to the loss
of Tanker 82 and all tanker pilots lost in the line of duty.
The poem on the granite memorial reads:
On any given day they take to the sky.
Their destiny in question, yet they never ask why.
As they race to the fire on strong metal wings,
This day in the air they are truly the kings.
So fly on, gallant heroes, and give it your best,
Let it be known, you flew over the rest!
When your last flight finally comes to an end,
You soared with the eagles, you rode on the wind.
-P. Neal 1995
- Forest Service Fire Management Today, Vol 55, No. 1, 1995 "In Memoriam"
- USFA Memorial Database: Bob Buc | Joe Johnson | Shawn Zaremba and on the National Fallen Firefighters Memorial under California
- Riverside County Fire Department: Firefighting Aircraft Memorial
- US Aerial Firefighters Memorial Wall
- US Forest Service Heroes Memorial: Bob Buc | Joe Johnson | Shawn Zaremba
- Tanker 64 for type of airtanker, C130A, and fatigue stress location is from Wikimedia Commons; the white wing center section area can be easily seen in contrast with the light grey of the wings.
Contributors to this article: airattackimages, RetFSFireCop, gwrfire, Dozerdog, firefish, 4711, P-6, IndyIke, Difsteer, caffpm, John Miller, Tom Janney, Mellie
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