The National Transportation Safety Board has dispatched a team to begin an investigation into the crash of a firefighting aircraft in California that killed all three crewmembers aboard.
At approximately 6:50 p.m., PDT, Wednesday, April 20, a Lockheed P-3B air tanker, N926AU, owned and operated by the Aero Union Corporation of Chico, California, crashed immediately following a fire retardant training drop near Chico. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed.
According to the company, the accident flight was the seventh flight of the day for that aircraft. The purpose of the flights was to conduct qualification checks for pilots who were scheduled to conduct firefighting operations during the upcoming fire season. The aircraft was manufactured in 1966 and was formerly operated by the United States Navy. It was powered by four Allison T56A11 turboprop engines.
Senior air safety investigator Georgia Struhsaker, from the NTSB's Seattle regional office, will lead the team as Investigator-in-Charge. She will be joined by four NTSB investigators, with assistance from representatives of the Federal Aviation Administration, Lockheed Aircraft Corporation, and the Aero Union Corporation. Rolls Royce (Allison) Engines will also be offered party status. NTSB Member Ellen Engleman Conners will accompany the team and serve as principal spokesperson for the on-scene investigation. Paul Schlamm is also accompanying the team as press officer.
The Safety Board issued 5 recommendations (A-04-29 through 33) last year to the Department of Agriculture, the Department of Interior and the Federal Aviation Administration as a result of several accidents involving structural failure of firefighting aircraft (it is unknown at this time if yesterday's accident is related to structural failure). Those recommendations may be found on the Board's web site.