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Pilot in fatal fire crash warned of high winds

Pilot in fatal fire crash warned of high winds

A pilot killed this spring while fighting a fire in Fort Carson repeatedly warned officials that winds were too strong but was urged by officials to push on, the National Transportation Safety Board concluded.
Gert Marais, 42, of Fort Benton, Mont., was killed April 15 when his single-engine air tanker nose-dived into the ground.
Officials with the Rocky Mountain Area Fire Coordinator Center, which manages firefighting efforts in Colorado, did not immediately comment on the NTSB factual report, released Dec. 18 and reported on Tuesday by The Denver Post.
Marais flew a single-engine air tanker for an aviation company that contracted with the Department of Defense for firefighting. The NTSB report concluded that he cited high winds several times.
A second pilot flying a companion plane told NTSB investigators that Marais did not want to head to Fort Carson if winds were stronger than 23 mph. Actual wind speed there was gusting to about 38 mph.
According to the NTSB report, dispatchers instead asked Marais and the second pilot to go to another fire that had forced the evacuation of the town of Ordway, where the terrain is flat and Marais expected the winds would be calmer.
While Marais was on the way to the Ordway fire, the dispatcher returned, asking again for the planes to head to Fort Collins, where 9,000 acres eventually burned.
According to the NTSB report, the two pilots decided that since they were already halfway to Fort Carson or Ordway, "they would at least check out the flight conditions" at the Fort Carson wildfire. An incident commander at the fire asked Marais to drop fire retardant at one spot and when Marais warned of winds and turbulence, he was directed to another area.
As Marais approached an area to drop water and foam on the wildfire, he lost control and sent a series of mayday calls and the words "I'm going down." Marais slammed into the ground at a 45-degree-angle in winds investigators determined were about 34.5 mph.
Firefighters had thought Marais' plane was carrying fire retardant, but it was carrying water and foam, the NTSB said. The agency reported that the "air-to-ground contact" for the U.S. Forest Service said water and foam were not the correct application for that area and that he would not have requested that particular drop had he known what Marais was carrying.
NTSB investigators earlier said there was nothing wrong with Marais' plane, a single-engine Air Tractor AT-602 registered to Aero-Applicators Inc. in Sterling. Marais had more than 10,000 hours of flying time.
The same day Marais died, two other volunteer firefighters working the Ordway fire were killed the day Marais died when their truck crashed where a fire-damaged bridge had collapsed.


Updated : 2020-12-01 23:51 GMT+08:00