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Cal Fire Airtankers No Longer Grounded

SACRAMENTO – This morning Cal Fire announced that the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has advised their department that no structural failures or aging aircraft issues were found in their investigation of the Tanker 81 accident that took the life of pilot Geoffrey “Craig” Hunt, on Tuesday, Oct. 7, at the Dog Rock Fire in Yosemite National Park.

“In light of this information we will be lifting the safety stand down for S-2T tankers effective immediately,” said Cal Fire Director Ken Pimlott. “Airbase personnel will resume their routine daily safety inspections and will be permitted to resume normal flight activities.”

Pimlott also said his agency will continue to support those individuals who may not feel ready to re-engage at this point.

“In the wake of such tragedy, I continue to witness excellence from Cal Fire employees, our partners at DynCorp International, as well as the entire fire service family,” said Pimlott.

“In particular we want to thank Yosemite National Park and their staff for what they have done this week for our pilot Craig. We continue our preparations to lay Craig to rest with the honor befitting one who sacrificed his life to protect the lives of others.

Pimlott also acknowledged the Forest Service for filling the void during the stand down of the S-2T airtankers, ensuring that initial attack wildland fire protection continued in California.

NTSB Aviation Accident Investigator Josh Cawthra, said his agency has concluded the on-scene portion of the investigation, with aerial reconnaissance on Wednesday, and boots on the ground yesterday.

“We have accounted for a majority of the airplane, and are comfortable in saying we don’t see anything that leads us to any mechanical related issues with the accident sequence,” he said. “We are still in the process of examining the wreckage, are are working with Cal Fire, the Park Service and the Forest Service to recover the wreckage.”

The recovery operation will get underway once fire suppression operations have ceased in the area. No timeline has been given for when that will begin, as it is still an active fire area.

Cawthra said the preliminary report from the NTSB will be published on their website in about five business days. The full investigation is very complex, he noted, and can take anywhere from six months to a year, possibly longer.

“We look at three major things – man, machine and environment,” he explained. “We look at the pilot – training, background, recency of experience, medical condition – and we leave no stone unturned. We look at the aircraft, airframe, engines, flight control systems and drop systems. We look at the environment – what was the weather like, inflight visibility, how did the sun look at that time – there are a lot of variables to look at, and that takes time. Right now we’re still in initial stages.”

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