Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Fatal crash of Neptune Aviation Services P2V fire fighting aircraft near Reno

Neptune Aviation P2VOn Monday, September 1, 2008, a Lockheed P2V Neptune aircraft operated by Neptune Aviation Services crashed off the departure end of the runway at Reno Stead Airport in Nevada. According to a preliminary report released today by the FAA, the aircraft was destroyed and all three crew members on board were killed in the accident.

News reports say the accident happened shortly after 18:00 local time, just after the aircraft took off. The Reno Gazette-Journal quoted an FAA spokesman who said that "reports from witnesses suggest the tanker lost a piece of its engine or a wing before it caught fire and went down." The Gazette-Journal also reported that crash debris was scattered over five acres, and the fire from the crash burned about two acres.

The aircraft (registration number N4235T) belonged to Neptune Aviation Services of Missoula, MT. It was operating under contract to the U.S. Forest Service. Earlier in the day, it had participated in firefighting activities in the Sierra Nevada, dropping fire retardant on a wildfire south of Lake Tahoe. News reports say that the aircraft had been fueled just before the accident, and was carrying a full load of fire retardant intended for a second fire.

UPDATE Sep. 4, 2008: The Washoe County Coroner’s Office in Nevada has identified the crew members who perished in the Neptune Aviation Services accident as Calvin Gene Wahlstrom, 61, of Huntsville, UT; Gregory Jess Gonsioroski, 41, of Baker,MT; and Zachary Jake Vander-Griend, 25, Missoula, MT. Condolences to the families, colleagues and friends of these men.

UPDATE Sep. 8, 2008: A preliminary factual report about the Neptune accident has been released by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB). Here is an excerpt from the NTSB report:
An air tanker base employee who witnessed the accident reported observing the airplane taxi to Runway 32 "...and everything appeared normal." The witness reported watching the airplane takeoff, and at an elevation estimated to be between 100 to 300 feet above the ground, he observed the left jet engine emitting flames, followed by the left wing being engulfed in flames. The witness further reported that about 2 seconds later the airplane entered a left wing down attitude before impacting terrain and bursting into flames.

The National Transportation Safety Board investigator-in-charge (IIC), accompanied by representatives from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the United States Department of Forestry, and representatives from Neptune Aviation Services, Inc., responded to the accident site on September 2, 2008. The initial onsite examination revealed that about 500 feet from the departure end of Runway 32, several identifiable pieces of the airplane's left jet engine were located.

It was also revealed that prior to impacting terrain the airplane had collided with a set of powerlines, estimated to be about 50 feet high. An initial ground impact scar was observed about 25 feet west of the powerlines, followed by the airplane's energy path proceeding in a westerly direction, covering a measured distance of about 755 feet on a magnetic heading of 250 degrees. The damage assessment also revealed that the airplane had sustained significant fragmentation and thermal damage throughout the debris path. [NTSB ID: SEA08GA194]
The NTSB says that the airplane will be recovered to a secure location for further examination.

[Image Source]