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Thread: Two Die in Crash Fighting Colorado Wildfire

  1. #1
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    Two Die in Crash Fighting Colorado Wildfire

    Two Die in Crash Fighting Colorado Wildfire

    JENNIFER HAMILTON
    Associated Press Writer

    LYONS, Colo. (AP) -- Bystanders and firefighters looked on in horror as an air tanker disintegrated into flames and crashed while battling a 1,200-acre wildfire near Denver, killing both crew members.

    "It was just a collective gasp by everybody. 'Oh, my God, it went down,''' Roy Safstrom, who was taking pictures of the wildfire, said after the crash Thursday.

    Investigators from the U.S. Forest Service and the National Transportation Safety Board were on the scene Friday near the rugged Rocky Mountain National Park, about 45 miles northwest of Denver.

    The crew members' names were not immediately released. The crash prompted all firefighting planes in the region covering Colorado, South Dakota, Kansas, Nebraska and most of Wyoming to be grounded for at least 24 hours while it is investigated, said Larry Helmerick, a Rocky Mountain Fire Information Office spokesman.

    He said the pilots were using routine tactics Thursday.

    "I don't have any information to indicate they weren't doing anything they normally wouldn't do in firefighting operations,'' he said. "It was a normal day for aerial resources.''

    The groundings could hamper efforts against the blaze, where steep terrain, high wind and even rattlesnakes made aerial support the most effective firefighting technique Thursday.

    "When we shut down the air tankers like this, we pretty much stop any aggressive action from taking place, with the exception of the minimal drops from helicopters,'' fire information officer Rick Dustin said.

    Ground crews were left somber and shaken. "I feel pretty sick,'' said Dave Sharman, 42, a volunteer with the Allenspark Fire District. "Whether you're on the ground or in the air, you're all part of a team. We just lost part of the team.''

    A small fire caused by the crash was quickly contained Thursday evening.

    The four-engine PB4Y plane had spent the day dropping fire retardant on the flames and was carrying 2,000 gallons of retardant when it crashed, Forest Service spokeswoman Terri Gates said.

    Safstrom was in a group of 15 bystanders who saw the plane break up. "There was a bright flash of flame on the left wing. The wing came off and after that he spiraled down,'' Safstrom said.

    The crash brings to 11 the number of people killed fighting wildfires nationwide this year. Five died in a traffic accident in Colorado en route to a fire and one was crushed by a fire-damaged tree in Colorado.

    Three more were killed in a June crash in Walker, Calif., when the wings on a C-130A tanker snapped off in the air, sending the fuselage to the ground in a fireball.

    The nation's C-130A tankers were grounded after the California crash. Hawkins & Powers Aviation Inc. of Greybull, Wyo., owned the plane that crashed in Walker and the PB4Y that went down Thursday.

    "Our heartfelt sympathy goes out to the family members,'' said Ryan Powers, operations manager of the company. "The crews are like family to all of us _ it's a pretty tight-knit community here.''

    The wildfire erupted Wednesday and spread quickly. About 120 homes were evacuated on Thursday and 300 were threatened. Officials said the fire was manmade but could not say whether it was deliberately set. It was no more than 5 percent contained early Friday, and expectations of high temperatures and low humidity brought forecasts of rapid fire growth.

    "It's going to get up and move and crown,'' said fire meteorologist Bob Irvine.



    http://www.firehouse.com/lodd/2002/co_jul19.html

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    Firefighting was Schwartz's passion

    Firefighting was Schwartz's passion

    By Charlie Brennan And Alicia Wallace, Rocky Mountain News
    July 20, 2002

    Rick Schwartz, a man full of life, couldn't cheat death twice.

    Schwartz, one of two pilots killed Thursday when a 57-year-old slurry tanker blew apart over the Big Elk Fire, barely survived being thrown through the windshield of his truck in the early 1980s during an accident in his native Montana.

    "He was in a coma for about two weeks," said his first wife, Brenda Cook of Greybull, Wyo.

    "They didn't know if he was going to come out of it. He had to relearn how to walk and talk, everything."

    Schwartz, 39, was aiming much higher than that. He learned to fly.

    He died Thursday pursuing what friends and family called his greatest passion.

    Schwartz left behind a wife of four months, Liz Schwartz, 38, who is pregnant with their first child. The couple lived in Ulm, Mont., near Great Falls.

    Cook, 45, was married to Schwartz from 1992 to 1995. They wed after her first husband also perished in a plane crash, in 1986.

    She said Schwartz started flying for Hawkins & Powers Aviation Inc. in Greybull the year after they married. And, yes, Cook would fret over his safety.

    "I always did," she said, "because after losing one husband in a plane accident, it was always on my mind."

    Cook learned of Thursday's crash from the television news. Even with no names included in that report, she feared the worst.

    "There was nothing definite, but I had a gut feeling from TV that it was him. It's just unbelievable."

    Schwartz was remembered Friday as a positive and outgoing man who was happiest when he was at the controls of an aircraft, dueling one of nature's most fearsome forces from aloft.

    "It's some of the greatest flying a person can do," Schwartz told the Tucson Citizen last month, while battling fires in Arizona's Santa Catalina Mountains.

    "It's fun," Schwartz said in that interview. "Every fire is different. We never know where we're going to be tonight."

    Doug Ivey, a tanker base manager in Tennessee, last worked with Schwartz in June.

    "He was a great, kind and warmhearted friend," Ivey said.

    Schwartz's father, Stew Schwartz, said, "As a father, you try to rationalize the 'how come?' . . . I guess the good Lord decided he needed him worse than we did. And I'm sure he's taking good care of him.''

    Staff writer Holly Yettick contributed to this report.




    http://www.rockymountainnews.com/drm...276925,00.html

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    Pilot planned to quit firefighting this year

    Pilot planned to quit firefighting this year

    By Nancy Mitchell, Rocky Mountain News
    July 20, 2002

    Milt Stollak was almost home.

    The North Hollywood native had been flying for more than 30 years, first in movies such as Tora! Tora! Tora! and then fighting fires, and he was, finally, ready to quit.

    "He swore this was his last year," his wife, Shannon Brumley-Stollak, said Friday from Cathedral City, Calif. "He was going to get relieved by the end of the month."

    Instead, Stollak, who had just celebrated his 56th birthday, climbed into the cockpit of a four-engine PB4Y-2 air tanker on Thursday with his buddy and co-pilot, Rick Schwartz.

    The two had just begun their run to drop slurry on the Big Elk Fire at about 6:45 p.m. when there was an explosion aboard the World War II-era plane. It lost a wing and crashed, killing both men.

    Stollak's best friend, Gary Anctil of California, said Stollak narrowly missed being assigned to another fatal flight - the C-130 transport plane that went down June 17 while dropping slurry on a wildfire near Walker, Calif.

    "He almost wound up having to fly on that airplane," Anctil said. "He called me that day and he says, 'Boy, we just lost a tanker.' He was really grateful he wasn't on it because he said he didn't want to die that way."

    Luck was with Stollak that day, Anctil said, as it often had been.

    "All through his career, he just barely got by major accidents," said Anctil, himself a pilot. "It seems like destiny was right behind him. . . .

    "He was a great guy," he added. "It's just a real shame."

    Born and raised in North Hollywood, Stollak graduated from North Hollywood High in 1964, said classmate Jim Rogers. He worked briefly for General Motors in nearby Van Nuys and enrolled in aviation school.

    Family members and friends said flying quickly became Stollak's love.

    Shannon Brumley-Stollak said her husband first did stunt flying in movies, including the 1970s war classic, Tora! Tora! Tora!, and the late '70s television series, Baa Baa Black Sheep, about the World War II Black Sheep fighter squadron in the South Pacific.

    Stollak also opened a flight school in Van Nuys, where he met Anctil, and he and Rogers started a business refurbishing World War II airplanes. Stollak had been featured in Air Classics, a magazine about WWII warbirds.

    "He loved those big old bombers," Rogers said. "He just loved to fly."

    In 1995, Stollak took up firefighting."He liked the fact that he was actually saving people's homes and lives," she said.

    She pointed out that the license plate on his orange Porsche reads "HEROPLT" for "Hero Pilot."

    "He would tell you it was a classic," she said of the Porsche, managing a laugh. "It didn't run, but it was a classic."

    That was the kind of wry humor her husband loved.

    But "when it came to his work, he was all business," Brumley-Stollak said. "He used to say, 'There are old pilots and there are bold pilots, but there are no old, bold pilots.


    http://www.rockymountainnews.com/drm...276926,00.html

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    Services to honor fallen fliers

    Services to honor fallen fliers

    By Michael Bedan, Rocky Mountain News
    July 23, 2002

    Family and friends will remember two fallen firefighter pilots in separate memorial services in the coming days.

    Rick Schwartz will be remembered in an open service at Schnider Funeral Home in Great Falls, Mont., at 7 p.m. Wednesday.

    Stew Schwartz, Rick's father, said the community has showered the family with support. "They've been very wonderful to us," Schwartz said Monday.

    Rick Schwartz, 39, was one of two firefighters killed Thursday when an air tanker dropping slurry on the Big Elk Fire crashed.

    Milt Stollak, 56, also died in the crash. Services for Stollak will take place sometime next week.

    The service will be in Palm Springs, Calif., once Stollak's remains have been returned.

    "It's going to be a wake," said Gary Anctil, Stollak's best friend. "We'll get together with a bunch of his family and friends. We're going to sit around, talk, have a few drinks, have a little service."

    The cause of the crash is under investigation, but officials have said it appears some sort of mechanical failure is to blame.


    http://www.rockymountainnews.com/drm...281373,00.html

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    Air tanker pilots' families mourn as blaze dwindles

    Big Elk Fire deaths temper progress

    Air tanker pilots' families mourn as blaze dwindles

    By Steve Caulk, Rocky Mountain News
    July 24, 2002

    LYONS - Heading home from the Big Elk Fire Tuesday, Buzzy Maige and Charles Kressler gave deeper-than-usual consideration to their mortality.

    The firefighters found themselves driving directly behind two flatbed trucks carrying pieces of the air tanker that crashed and killed both pilots near here. For 45 minutes, they stared at the wreckage, which put their own lives into perspective.

    "At least we're getting to go home," Maige said. "Those guys didn't. They gave everything they had to fight this fire."

    Pilots Rick Schwartz and Milt Stollak were killed last Thursday. The cause of the crash is under investigation.

    Firefighters made progress on the blaze Tuesday and predicted that the blaze would be fully contained by 6 p.m. Saturday.

    Brandi Stollak, daughter of Milt Stollak, visited the crash site twice during the past two days and pondered what might have been. Stollak's contract expired July 13, one day after his birthday, but he told his daughter he had to remain in Colorado until someone could replace him.

    "My dad was supposed to come home tonight," she said at a news conference Tuesday at the fire command center.

    She planned to pick him up at the Ontario, Calif., airport in his Porsche, which bears the license plates "HEROPLT."

    "It hurts," she said.

    Maige and Kressler received orders to move out Tuesday, along with 16 other engine crews, as part of a demobilization of the firefighting effort. Rain and relatively low temperatures allowed firefighters to begin to get the upper hand on the fire between Lyons and Estes Park. The fire was 40 percent contained Tuesday.

    By late Tuesday, the number of workers assigned to the fire had dwindled by 50 to about 700.

    Evacuees returned to their homes in Big Elk Meadows, Little Valley and Lake Pasture Ranch, all with full access to utilities.

    "We're making great progress in some really steep and rugged country," said Hunter Wistrand, operations chief for the Southwest Area Incident Management Team.

    The team dispatched no slurry bombers Tuesday, and managers did not expect to use them again on this fire. The ruggedness of the fire's northern boundary required the team to retain all hand crews, but it became clear late Monday that the team would no longer need the 73 engines in its arsenal.

    "When we thought Estes Park would be threatened, we needed 70 engines," Wistrand said. "Now we can't get rid of them as quick as they get here."

    Maige and Kressler packed up Tuesday after two days on site, with no exposure to the fire. They spent most of their time with evacuees, advising them on how to protect themselves from future fires.

    Elsewhere in Colorado:


  6. #6
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    Schwartz, Rick

    Age: 57
    Rank: Pilot
    Status: Career
    Incident Date: 07/18/2002
    Incident Time: 18:45
    Death Date: 07/18/2002

    Cause of Death: Struck By/Contact with Object
    Nature of Death: Internal Trauma
    Emergency Duty: Yes
    Duty Type: Fireground Operations
    Activity Type: Driving/Operating Vehicle/Apparatus
    Fixed Prop. Use: Outdoor Property

    Fire Dept. Info:
    U.S. Forest Service
    Rocky Mountain Area Coordination Center
    2850 Youngfield Ave
    Lakewood, Colorado 80215

    Initial Summary:
    Pilots Rick Schwartz and Milt Stollak had just begun their run to drop slurry on the Big Elk Fire in Colorado when there was an explosion aboard their four-engine PB4Y-2 air tanker causing it to break apart and crash to the ground killing both men. The aircraft was owned and operated by Wyoming-based Hawkens and Powers Aviation Inc. under contract for the U.S. Forest Service.


    http://www.usfa.fema.gov/application....cfm?p_id=1306

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    Stollak, Milt

    Age: 56
    Rank: Pilot
    Status: Career
    Incident Date: 07/18/2002
    Incident Time: 18:45
    Death Date: 07/18/2002

    Cause of Death: Struck By/Contact with Object
    Nature of Death: Internal Trauma
    Emergency Duty: Yes
    Duty Type: Fireground Operations
    Activity Type: Driving/Operating Vehicle/Apparatus
    Fixed Prop. Use: Outdoor Property

    Fire Dept. Info:
    U.S. Forest Service
    Rocky Mountain Area Coordination Center
    2850 Youngfield Ave
    Lakewood, Colorado 80215

    Initial Summary:
    Pilots Milt Stollak and Rick Schwartz had just begun their run to drop slurry on the Big Elk Fire in Colorado when there was an explosion aboard their four-engine PB4Y-2 air tanker causing it to break apart and crash to the ground killing both men. The aircraft was owned and operated by Wyoming-based Hawkens and Powers Aviation Inc. under contract for the U.S. Forest Service.


    http://www.usfa.fema.gov/application....cfm?p_id=1305

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