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Incident Name: 5,000 acre White Rock Fire, began in Nevada from lightning and spread across the border into Utah, Ely District, BLM
Date: June 3, 2012, 1400 hrs
Personnel: 2 lives lost
Agency/Organization: Neptune Aviation Services of Missoula MT under contract with the BLM
Position: aerial firefighters

Capt. Todd Neal Tompkins, 48, of Boise, ID
Ronnie Edwin Chambless, 40, of Boise, ID

On June 3, 2012 just after 1400 hours, Tanker 11 -- with Pilot Todd Tompkins and Co-Pilot Ron Chambless aboard -- had dropped on the east flank of the White Rock Fire, returned to Cedar City, UT for fuel. It was on approach for the second run of the day when it crashed. Neither man survived. It was estimated that the aircraft held approximately 1,600 gallons of fuel and 2,000 gallons of fire retardant. The NTSB, FAA and USFS investigated.

First two photos provided by the Iron County UT Sheriff’s Office. Third photo of Ron smiling sent in by one of his friends... from his Facebook collection.

Todd Tompkins, Pilot Todd Tompkins, Pilot
Ron Chambless, Co-pilot Ron Chambless, Co-pilot
Ron Chambless, Excellent Friend Ron Chambless, Excellent Friend


Tanker 11 photos by Craig M. Happ in the collection.

Tanker 11 Tanker 11
Tanker 11 Tanker 11

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Just outside the eastern edge of the fire at the time, about 2 hrs northwest of Cedar City; 22 mi NW of Modena in Hamblin Valley, Iron County, UT; near the Utah-Nevada border; 58.8 miles from the Cedar City UT reload pits

Accident location, based on last AFF received prior to the incident; actually 1.6 miles SE of a landmark peak called Reed’s Cabin Summit, which is in Nevada

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Reports, Documentation, Lessons Learned

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Media Articles and Reports

  • Two Dead in Firefighting Air Tanker Crash in Utah

    6/3/12, 8:45 PM | Online article from

    Two people were killed today when their firefighting air tanker crashed while fighting a 5,000-acre blaze along the Nevada-Utah border, an NTSB official tells ABC News. The plane — a heavy air tanker — went down shortly before 1 p.m. in the Hamblin Valley roughly two hours west of Cedar City, Utah. (More at the link...)

  • Two people killed in crash of air tanker fighting fire

    Sunday, June 3 2012, 9:40 p.m. MDT | Online Article from

    MODENA, Iron County, Idaho — Two people were killed Sunday when an airplane assisting fire crews with the White Rock Fire crashed Sunday in the Hamblin Valley area of Iron County. The plane's pilot, Todd Tompkins, and co-pilot, Ronnie Chambless, were both killed after the P2V heavy air tanker they were flying crashed shortly after 2 p.m. on Sunday. Both men were from Boise, Idaho. The plane was owned by Neptune Aviation Services, of Missoula, Mont., according to officials with the Bureau of Land Management. The cause of the crash was not yet known. (More at the link...)

    15 Photos in a slideshow from Scott G Winterton to the right at that link.

  • Authorities identify 2 Boise men killed in crash of Missoula-based air tanker

    6/4/12 | Online article from

    A Neptune Aviation P2V tanker crashed Sunday afternoon while fighting a forest fire in Utah, killing both crew members.“It’s a tragic afternoon for the entire fire and aviation community,” said National Interagency Fire Center spokesman Don Smurthwaite in Boise.

    The heavy air tanker was piloted by Capt. Todd Neal Tompkins and co-piloted by First Officer Ronnie Edwin Chambless, both of Boise, Idaho, according to the sheriff’s department of Iron County, Utah. The Missoula-based Tanker 11 was flying near the head of the White Rock fire on the Utah-Nevada border west of Cedar City, Utah, when it crashed at 1:45 p.m. Smurthwaite said the intense fire activity made it impossible to reach the Hamblin Valley crash site for much of the day. (More at the link...)

  • Pilot killed in air tanker crash loved fighting wildfires

    6/4/2012 | Online article from

    BOISE, Idaho – An Idaho pilot who was killed when his air tanker crashed Sunday in Utah loved the challenge of flying over burning forests or rangeland and believed his efforts to slow the spread of wildfires from the sky impacted lives and the environment. Todd Tompkins, 48, and co-pilot, Ronnie Edwin Chambless, 40, both of Boise, were killed when their P-2V air tanker crashed while dumping retardant on a 5,000-acre blaze near the Utah-Nevada border.

    Tompkins, a 17-year veteran of aerial firefighting, was dispatched to the fire Sunday and immediately added to the flyover rotation, his wife Cassandra Cannon said. “He always grew up wanting to fly,” Cannon said. “But he really liked this type of flying because it was always interesting and challenging to him. In the back of his mind, I knew he understood the risks.” “But he used to come back and talk about so many instances where he felt like their work saved communities, that they had saved lives,” she said. “It was powerful to hear him talk about that and recognize that value of what he did.” (More at the link...)

  • Detective: Neptune air tanker hit tree before Utah crash

    6/4/2012 | Online article from

    Neptune Aviation Tanker 11 was dropping a load of retardant on the leading edge of the White Rock fire in Utah on Sunday afternoon when one wing apparently hit a tree and the Lockheed P2V cartwheeled into the ground.

    “From what the investigators could see, the plane began to touch the treetops as it tried to unload its retardant,” Iron County Sheriff’s Detective Jody Edwards said from Cedar City, Utah, where Tanker 11 was based for the fire. “They could see the cone of debris where the slurry came out, see where the wing tip touched and see a number of divots where it broke into several pieces. (More at the link...)

  • Investigators head to scene of fatal tanker crash

    6/4/12 | Online Article from

    Federal authorities investigating a fatal crash of an air tanker fighting a southern Utah wildfire over the weekend plan to visit the wreckage site in hopes of determining what caused the plane to plummet into a canyon and disintegrate over a 600-yard debris field. National Transportation Safety Board investigator Van McKenny says authorities would visit the site for the first time Tuesday (6/5/12) to gather evidence. (More at the link...)

  • P2V Air Tanker Crash Kills Two in Utah

    6/5/2012 | Online Article from Flying

    A Cold War-era Lockheed P2V tanker crashed in western Utah on Sunday, killing two pilots who had been battling a lightning-sparked wildfire. Eyewitnesses said it appeared a wingtip hit the ground in a rocky canyon as the airplane was dropping its fire retardant. The P2V disintegrated on impact, leaving a 1,000-foot-long debris field. (More at the link...)

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Photos, Videos, & Tributes

  • Utah Firefighters Line of Duty Deaths, 1920-2012 by Steve Lutz
  • MSNBC video on Tanker 11 crash: Brian Williams, Miguel Almaguer, Vicki Minor (WFF) holding back tears... Ron was a well-knowh volunteer at the Wildland Firefighter Foundation  (No longer online). Video Link
  • Boise pilots remembered after losing lives fighting wildfires

    6/4/2012 | Online VIDEO & article

    (No longer online.) Recorded at the Wildland Firefighter Foundation in Boise with Burk Minor and retired pilot Tom Janney remembering the fallen pilots.

  • Memorial to celebrate the lives of Todd Tompkins and Ron Chambless

Thursday June 14, 2012 at 7 PM

Linen Building 1402 W. Grove St, Boise ID

Larry Zajanc will lead the memorial.

Snacks and bar follow.

At 6 PM a procession of fire vehicles will be escorted by the Boise Police from the Wildland Firefighter Foundation 2049 Airport Way to the Linen Building.

All are welcome.

The procession coordinator is BLM Honor Guard member Dennis Strange (see flyer for contact info).

In lieu of flowers, the families request that people send a donation to the WFF in Todd's or Ron's name.

For details open and save the FLYER (828 K pdf).

Please share with anyone who might be interested.

  • Tanker 11

June 14, 2012:

Tanker 11 Tanker 11


Memorial Brochure

Tanker 11 Memorial Program 1 Tanker 11 Memorial Program 1
Tanker 11 Memorial Program 2 Tanker 11 Memorial Program 2

Thank You from the WFF to the participants in the Memorial Service (from theysaid):

When Air Tanker 11 pilots Todd Tompkins and Ron Chambless lost their lives recently on the White Rock wildland fire in Utah, Boise was suddenly thrown into the national limelight. The pilots called Boise home and Tanker 11 flew out of Boise as needed.

Emergency services personnel and hundreds of residents of Boise and other locations turned out to give the pilots a lasting tribute on Thursday June 14 in a procession from the Wildland Firefighter Foundation’s office on Airport Way to the Linen Building on Grove Street.

There were simply too many emergency services people to thank, too many wildland firefighters to thank, and too many everyday citizens to thank on an individual basis. The best I can do is to post this letter in the Idaho Statesman and hope that everyone knows how much your participation was appreciated, not only by the families of these two brave men, but also by all of the other emergency services personnel, wildland firefighters and everyday citizens who know and appreciate the services of such fine men who die in the line of duty.

Thank you all, Vicki Minor, Executive Director, Wildland Firefighter Foundation.

USFA Memorial Database: Todd Tompkins | Ron Chambless

Sister ship to Tanker 11; photo credit to Neptune Aviation Services, Inc

Neptune P2V example Neptune P2V example

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Contributors to this article: Tom Janney, RJM, Vicki Minor, Burk Minor, Neptune Aviation Services, Inc., Mellie, Guy Pence, Steve Lutz

WFF Boots & Wreath logo. Please support the Wildland Firefighter Foundation