MINDEN -- A second fatal crash of an air tanker fighting a forest fire has prompted a congressional inquiry.
Rep. Jim Gibbons, R-Nev., formally requested an investigation by the House Subcommittee on Forests and Forest Health into possible causes of recent crashes.
"The West is facing one of the worst wildfire seasons in years," Gibbons said Friday. "We need to ensure our nation's firefighting planes are the safest, most effective, aerial firefighting fleet possible. The recent crashes claimed the lives of valiant firefighters, including one of my own constituents. A comprehensive report on the age, inspection, maintenance, and repair of our aircraft fleet must be conducted."
A fatal crash occurred June 17 at the Cannon Fire in Walker, Calif., south of Gardnerville. The three-man crew of a C-130A airtanker died after the plane lost its wings and crashed into a field in Walker. Steve Wass, 42, of Gardnerville was the pilot of the air tanker.
That crash prompted grounding of all C-130 airtanker flights. It is still being investigated by the National Travel Safety Board and the U.S. Forest Service Accident Investigation Team, but it could be up to a year before that investigation is final.
Another crash occurred Thursday at Rocky Mountain National Park in northern Colorado when a four-engine PB4Y air tanker reportedly went down after its wing fell off, killing its two-person crew. Names of that crew have not been released.
Both planes are owned by Hawkins and Powers Aviation of Greybull, Wyo. Their phone numbers were not in service Friday.
Hawkins and Powers were matching local donations collected for the families of the crew killed the June crash.
In Gibbons' letter Friday to Sen. Scott McInnis, R-Colo., he asked that the Congressional hearing examine the integrity of the fleet of airplanes and helicopters used in firefighting, as well as the overall use of aircraft in fighting wildland fires.
In addition, Gibbons will sponsor legislation to provide additional aerial resources from the Department of Defense to aid firefighting efforts.
So far this year, 11 firefighters have died, including five killed in a traffic accident enroute to a Colorado fire, and a firefighter crushed by a tree in another Colorado fire, according to the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho.
Gibbons will sponsor legislation with Congressman Elton Gallegly, R-Calif., to provide greater assistance to federal and local firefighting efforts by allowing the departments of Interior and Agriculture to call on the Air National Guard/Air Force Reserve aerial firefighting equipment if they are needed to fight a wildfire.
"Our firefighters deserve to have every resource available to help battle wildland blazes and keep our citizens and their property safe," Gibbons said.
To donate to the families of the tanker crash victims contact: Associated Airtanker's Pilots' Memorial Fund, P.O. Box Greybull, WY, 82426; or News Channel 8's Tanker 130 Memorial Fund, Wells Fargo Bank, 1542 Highway 395, Gardnerville, NV 89410 (775) 782-7118.