Aerial Firefighters Express Condolences To Tanker Pilot’s Family And Friends

Washington, D.C., October 14, 2014….Members of the American Helicopter Services & Aerial Firefighting Association (AHSAFA) are extending their sincere sympathy to the family and friends of Geoffrey “Craig” Hunt, who died in the crash of an airtanker in the line of duty, on Wednesday, October 8.

A long-time contract pilot for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CALFIRE), Hunt had been piloting a CALFIRE-operated Grumman S-2T, dropping retardant on the Dog Rock fire outside Yosemite National Park when the accident occurred.

“During this especially intense and destructive fire season in California, we are constantly aware of the high risks involved with flying fixed-wing tankers and helicopters in support of ground-based firefighters, under the most extreme conditions,” said Tom Eversole, AHSAFA Executive Director.  “Pilots like Craig are willing to accept those risks to protect our wildlands and the public.  Our sympathy and prayers go out to his family and friends.  As a fellow Navy P-3 pilot, I, feel we lost a family member.”

Andrew Njirich, President of Intermountain Helicopter in Sonora, California, who met Craig three years ago at the Grass Valley air attack base, praised his professionalism.  “He walked this earth with grace and pride, and cast a shadow most pilots would be lucky to stand in,” he remarked.  “We are so very grateful that we got to know him for even a short time and will always remember Craig.  Our deepest condolences go out to his family and friends.”

Missoula, Montana-based Neptune Aviation Services had a BAe 146 and two P2V Neptune tankers working on the Dog Rock fire when the accident happened, according to Dan Snyder, the company’s Chief Operating Officer.  “Our thoughts and prayers are with the family of Geoffrey Hunt at this sad time, and we wish to express our sympathy and condolences to our colleagues in the CALFIRE family,” Snyder said.

“All of us at Erickson express our sorrow at the loss of Pilot Geoffrey Craig Hunt. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family and with CAL Fire at this time.  All Aerial Firefighters grieve the loss of one of our own,” said Mike Rotonda, Aerial Firefighting Manager for Erickson, Inc.  The Portland, Oregon-based company, in fact, had two of its Erickson S-64 Air Cranes assigned to the Dog Rock fire.

Erickson was involved in fighting the Dog Rock Fire, We had two Erickson S-64 Air-Cranes assigned to that fire.

“We want to extend our deepest condolences to the family, coworkers and friends of Geoffrey,” said Larry Kelley, Director of Fire Operations for CHI Aviation in Boise, Idaho.  “He will be deeply missed in the firefighting community, which he so proudly served.”

CHI Aviation, Erickson, Intermountain Helicopter, and Neptune Aviation Services are members of AHSAFA, the Washington-based trade association representing the privately operated aerial firefighting industry.

With No Let-Up In Sight, Aerial Firefighters Continue To Battle California Blazes

Aerial firefighters have continued to battle a record number and sizes of wildland fires in California, as drought and high temperatures persist with little to no relief in sight.

Of the seven major wildfires still uncontained in California, the King Fire, which has burned 82,000 acres over 130 square miles in the El Dorado National Forest—just east of Sacramento—since Friday, September 12, is the most destructive, and remains just 10 percent contained.

“We have had as many as four aircraft working on the King Fire since it started,” said Dan Snyder, Chief Operating Officer for Neptune Aviation Services in Missoula, Montana.  The company has deployed two of its modified BAe 146 tankers, and two of its legacy P2V Neptunes, starting in an initial attack role, and continuing to drop fire retardant.  Snyder also pointed out that Neptune has deployed assets to “most of the 11 fires burning in California,” at the height of the state’s September fire crisis.

“Right now, we have six aircraft working fires in California—three BAe 146s and three P2Vs, flying out of Redding, Chico, Fresno, San Bernardino, and Sacramento McClellan in California, and an additional P2V based in Kamath Falls, Oregon, operating on fires in Northern California, as well Oregon,”  said Snyder. He added that as of Friday, September 19th, the six aircraft have flown in excess of 220 hours—just within the previous week.  Neptune Aviation Services currently has a total active fleet of 10 tankers, including four BAe 146, and six P2Vs.

Snyder called the California fire season, “above average” in terms of activity, intensity and the length of the season, which started much earlier than normal.  That, he said, has resulted in “a California-centric,” post-season planning

“We believe that our aircraft will probably be needed later in the fire season in California, than normally would be the case, based on what we have seen this year,” he remarked.  “We are already planning for that possibility.”

Fresno-based Rogers Helicopters dispatched a Bell 212 to the King Fire, along with a pilot, mechanic and fuel truck driver, under a US Forest Service call when needed (CWN) contract, according to company Vice-President Robin Rogers.  He reported that the company has also contributed a Turbine Commander fixed wing aircraft to the King Fire to aid with initial attack.

Aerial firefighters also continue to battle the still uncontained Happy Camp Complex Fire in the Klamath National Forest.  Among them is CHI Aviation, which has deployed a Bell 205 working from the nearby Scott Valley Airport.  “The helicopter has been on that fire for the past two weeks,” explained Larry Kelley, the company’s Director Of Fire Operations in Boise, Idaho.  “It has been used for water drops, as well as the transportation of firefighters and equipment to the fire lines.”

Another Bell 205, Kelley reported, was moved from Salmon, Idaho, more than a week ago to fight the Boles Fire in Weed, California.  It was also engaged in water-dropping as well as personnel and supplies transport.  “We have another Bell 205 in Boise, ready for dispatch to California, if needed,” he remarked “If the weather pattern doesn’t change in California, we’ll probably be there through at least mid-October.”

Also working from the Scott Valley Airport during the current emergency is a Columbia Helicopters Vertol 107, twin rotor, twin engine helicopter.  According to Todd Petersen, the Portland, Oregon, company’s Vice President, Marketing, the helicopter has been deployed on the Happy Camp Complex Fire, as well as “multiple fires in the area,” for the past two weeks.  The helicopter uses a 1,300 gallon capacity external Bambi bucket for water dropping.  “We continue to be in for a very long fire season in California,” Petersen noted.

Drew Njirch, President of Intermountain Helicopter in Sonora, California, reported that the company’s single Bell 212 continues to work from the South Lake Tahoe Airport on the Irene Fire, burning in the Mokelumne Wilderness along the crest of the central Sierra Nevada Mountains.  The helicopter has been on the fire since September 13, when it was directed there from Bozeman, Montana.  Njirch said that its primary job has been moving firefighters and equipment.  “We have done some water dropping, but most of our work has been putting boots on the ground,” he said.

The operator is also among those predicting a long fire season in California.  “The Northern California fires will give way to additional fire activity driven by the Santa Anna winds in Southern California, by October or November.  I fully anticipate that this will be the case.”

CHI Aviation, Columbia Helicopters, Intermountain Helicopter, Neptune Aviation Services, and Rogers Helicopters are members of the American Helicopter Services and Aerial Firefighting Association (AHSAFA), the Washington, D.C. based trade association representing the aerial firefighting industry.