Federal safety officials are recommending stricter maintenance and inspection programs for firefighting aircraft after concluding that aging metal caused three fatal air tanker accidents in the past ten years, including one in the Sierra Nevada.
The National Transportation Safety Board said procedures for detecting the problem, known as fatigue cracking, didn´t adequately account for the increased safety risk posed by older firefighting aircraft or the severe stresses those planes encounter.
In 2002, three members of the crew were killed when a 46-year-old Lockheed C-130-A crashed after it lost both wings in the Sierra near Walker, California about 70 miles south of Reno. A Reno television crew caught the moment on videotape when the plane´s wings broke off and the tanker crashed in a fiery explosion.
Similar problems were found in an aging P-B-4-Y-2 that broke up and crashed fighting a Colorado fire that year, killing both crew members.