National Transportation Safety Board investigators are looking into the cause of an incident that caused heavy damage Tuesday to an air tanker working on a wildfire near Circle. NTSB Alaska Region Chief Clint Johnson provided more details of the incident Thursday.
“An Air Tractor Fire Boss, which is an amphibious float-equipped airplane used in water-scooping and firefighting, was involved in an accident on Tuesday right around 4 o’clock,” he said in an interview.
Johnson said an investigator was headed to the site where the damaged single-engine air tanker remains. The Air Tractor AT-802A Fire Boss ran into a problem while it was scooping a load from a body of water near the Birch Creek Fire, burning 17 miles northwest of Circle.
“There were no injuries to the one pilot that was on-board,” he said, “and the NTSB is investigating.”
A spokesperson for the Alaska Fire Service, the federal agency that's fighting the fire, said the pilot was taken from the site near Circle to Fairbanks Memorial Hospital, where he was treated and released. Johnson says the agency plans to talk with him as soon as possible while it makes arrangements to transport the damaged air tanker out of the remote area.
“We’re in the recovery process at this point right now,” he said. “That may take a while, given the size of the airplane, the weight of the airplane, and the size of the helicopter that will be needed to recover the aircraft.”
The Fire Boss was leased by the Alaska Fire Service from a Minnesota-based company. It was one of six aircraft assigned to help eight smokejumpers who’d been sent to fight the 16-acre wildfire. The Alaska Fire Service says firefighters mostly are mopping-up hotspots around the fire, which the agency hopes to have under control by Friday night.