Not any more

Two dead after waterbomber crashes while fighting B.C. forest fires

In Canada on August 1, 2010 at 19:37

The battle to contain wildfires in British Columbia turned deadly this weekend, as two crewmen were killed when their waterbomber crashed Saturday near Lytton.

The bomber, a Convair 580 owned by Abbotsford-based Conair, went down outside the town of Lytton, about 260 kilometres up the Fraser River from Vancouver.

Initially search-and-rescue crews were unable to reach the crash site because of the intensity of the wildfires, but Sunday afternoon a helicopter made it in and confirmed the deaths of the captain and co-pilot, two experienced male pilots, said Rick Pedersen, a vice-president at Conair, the company that owned the plane.

The company said it could not discuss potential causes for the crash while investigations into what had happened were underway.

The captain was a 58-year-old man from the Lower Mainland, who had 26 years of experience with the company and with fighting fires from the sky, Pedersen said.

His co-pilot was a 36-year-old man from the Edmonton area, who was new to the company this year, but who also had a great deal of experience, Pedersen said.

Their names were not released pending the notification of their families.

Conair employs a fleet of 50 aircraft around Western Canada, and Pedersen said this was their first fatal accident in nearly 20 years.

“Our thoughts are with the affected families, it is difficult to truly express the deep sense of appreciation that all of us here in B.C. have for those who dedicate their lives to the preservation of our well being, fire season after fire season,” said RCMP Cpl. Dan Moskaluk in the statement.

Premier Gordon Campbell also expressed his condolences in a press release on Sunday.

"On behalf of all British Columbians, I would like to extend our sincere condolences to the families of the victims of this tragic plane crash. Our hearts and prayers go out to them in this difficult time," he said. "As British Columbians, we owe a debt of gratitude to those who bravely put their lives in danger to keep our homes, our families and our communities safe. All British Columbians are grateful to those who are fighting the fires and their ongoing efforts."

All flags at the Ministry of Forest and Range offices will fly at half-mast this week to acknowledge the loss of the two brave pilots, he said.

Teams from both the police force and the Transportation Safety Board have been dispatched to the scene to investigate the crash once the flames have abated.

The fire around Jackass Mountain is one of 353 burning across British Columbia, 150 of which have erupted in the past three days, according to the B.C. government’s Wildfire Management Branch.

Multiple rescue attempts were made Saturday night, before being suspended until this morning because the fire was too intense, according to the Joint Rescue Co-Ordination Centre.

The crash comes as the B.C. Forest Fire Service is battling fires across the province.

On Friday alone 64 new fires were sparked, 10 of them by people, the rest by lightning. These fires have burned a total of 59,781 hectares.

Firefighters and fire specialists from Alberta and Ontario started to arrive Sunday morning to help B.C. fire crews battle the most fire-plagued areas in the province.

Two hundred and thirty firefighters and fire specialists as well as aircraft from those two provinces were to arrive to assist in containing the blazes in the Cariboo and Kamloops regions.

Forty kilometres south of Williams Lake the 1,800 hectare Dog Creek fire continues to be the biggest challenge in the Cariboo region. An evacuation order and alert remains in effect for residents within the area, however fire crews have built a guard around a large portion of the fire.

The largest fire in the area is near Pelican Lake where about 2,500 hectares have burned. Evacuation notices have also been issued in the sparsely populated area.

Meanwhile, Kamloops is under smoky skies thanks to southerly winds pushing smoke down from the Cariboo region.

An expanded evacuation alert has been put in place for the Yalakom Valley as the Jade wildfire continues to burn. The blaze has reached 1248 hectares, but only 15 per cent has been contained.

Meanwhile, little growth was noted for the 130-hectare Mason Lake wildfire, formerly known as Bonaparte Lake. 110 personnel, including 80 firefighters, 7 helicopters and 11 heavy equipment have been deployed on scene. An evacuation alert for the west side of the lake was rescinded on Friday, but an evacuation order is still in place for the east side.

With files from The Vancouver Sun

© Copyright (c) The Vancouver Sun

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