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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
Age:
Agency/Organization: owned by Aero Firefighting Service Company, Inc, was operated by Hemet Valley Flying Service, Inc, on lease to the U.S. Forest Service as a public use aircraft and under contract with CDF, now CAL FIRE.

Summary:

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.)

 

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Maps

Accident Location

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.

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Reports, Documentation, Lessons Learned

  • 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 (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 lookup utility, NTSB Identification: LAX94FA323
  • 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)
  • 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.)

    Abstract:

    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.)

  • Bob's, Joe's, and Shawn's names, death date and brief bio are included in the USFA Firefighter Fatality Retrospective Study, published April 2002 (2,888 K pdf)

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Wildlandfire.com Links:

Hotlist: discussion

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

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Media Articles and Reports.

  • 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...

  • Crash Kills Three Aboard Firefighting Aircraft

    8/13/94 | Unknown source of original article

    A C130 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 the Angeles National Forest.

    The fires blackened about five acres and were contained by US Forest Service and Los Angeles County Fore Department crews by large Saturday, fire officials said.

    A Forest Service spokesman said rescuers will retrieve the bodies today. Spokesman Terry Ellis said the three were employees of the Hemet Valley Flying Service, which owned the plane and contracted it out to the Forest Service to help combat fires.

    National Transportation Safety Board investigators will hike to the crash site today to try and determine the cause of the crash, officials said.

    "You’ve got to be a mountain climber to get up there," said Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Lt. Antonio Madrid, who was at the scene.

    Initially, authorities believed two planes had collided in midair be because of the explosion and brush fires. But, Madrid, said, the plane "apparently caught on fire before it crashed...We now believe the plane was cut in half."

    A spokesman for Edwards Air Force Base said that its control tower was tracking the plane and that it disappeared from the radar screen about 1:30 PM.

    The plane, a privately owned C-130 Hercules, was being leased by the Forest Service to help fight forest fires throughout the country, said Roger Richcreek, a Forest Service spokesman.

    Witnesses said the plane lost altitude and exploded before it slammed into the mountainside near Devil’s Punchbowl, a Los Angeles County park known for its unusual rock formations.

    "We were driving up when we noticed this large plane flying too low," said Sheri Multer of Fontana, who was in the area with her daughter and nephew. "It just exploded into a ball of flames. One of the wings shot off ...I feel sorry for whoever was in the plane."

    Harold Hogan who was part of a foursome golfing at Crystalaire County Club in nearby Llano, said the plane was on fire and tumbling through the air.

    "It had flames shooting out of it, and making a sputtering sound," he said. "I knew it was going down...Then I saw and heard a huge explosion. It was a huge ball of flame and smoke that probably went 500 feet into the air."

    Several seconds after the first explosion, Hogan said, he saw the aircraft slam into the mountainside and heard another crashing sound.

    "I’ve never seen anything like this in my life," he said. "It was louder than a sonic boom. It was awesome." David Sandoval of Carson City, Nev., said he was on his way with a friend to Devil’s Punchbowl when the friend pointed out the plane before it crashed. "I didn’t see any parachutes," Sandoval said. " Whoever was in that plane went down with it. It happened so fast I don’t think even the pilot knew what was happening."

    Most of the 30 planes leased by the Forest Service are C-130 cargo planes converted to carry fire-retardant chemicals, officials said. The planes carry a minimum of three passengers, including the pilot.

    The air tankers are very effective at fighting fires because they can fly at fairly slow speeds, are highly maneuverable and are able to drop fire retardant with great accuracy. During fire season, the planes roam the country, going from one blaze to another.

    The C-130 that went down Saturday was en route to a brush fire in Central Kern County believed to have been started by lightening. Although the tanker planes handle air traffic control themselves, they usually check in with local Forest Service crews when they arrive at a fire, authorities said.

    Authorities said they did not know if the plane that went down attempted to communicate with Angeles National Forest rangers because of heavy radio traffic generated because of the brush fires.

  • 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".)

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Photos, Videos, & Tributes

  • Monument at Hemet Ryan Air Attack Base CA
Monument at Hemet Ryan Air Attack Base CA 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"
Forest Service Fire Management Today, Vol 55, No. 1, 1995 In Memoriam Forest Service Fire Management Today, Vol 55, No. 1, 1995 In Memoriam
Tanker 64 for Type Tanker 64 for Type

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Contributors to this article: airattackimages, RetFSFireCop, gwrfire, Dozerdog, firefish, 4711, P-6, IndyIke, Difsteer, caffpm, John Miller, Tom Janney, Mellie

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