Memorial to fire crew killed in Sierra air crash dedicated

WALKER, Calif. -- A memorial honoring three crew members killed when their air tanker crashed battling a Sierra Nevada wildfire nearly a year ago was dedicated at a ceremony.

More than 200 people, including family members, gathered Saturday at the crash site along U.S. 395 to pay tribute to pilot Steve Wass, co-pilot Craig Labare and flight engineer Mike Davis.

A memorial rock and plaque with their names were unveiled at the site at the north end of Walker, located 90 miles south of Reno, Nev.

"These courageous men will always be remembered now," said event coordinator Dianne Evans of Walker. "We owe them a lot because they helped save our community."

Walker-area residents and the U.S. Forest Service chipped in for the $950 cost of the monument.

The three men died June 17, 2002 when their C-130A air tanker crashed while dropping retardant on the Cannon Fire.

A Reno television crew caught the moment on videotape when the plane's wings broke off and the tanker crashed in a fiery explosion.

Since then, the Forest Service has stopped using C-130As for fighting fires. The agency's crash investigation will be followed by the National Transportation Safety Board's accident report.

Robert Vaught, supervisor of the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest, joined in praising the mens' bravery and expressing sympathy to family members.

Vaught said he thinks air tanker crews will face safer conditions in the future because of increased scrutiny of firefighting planes.

The NTSB has said fatigue cracks were found in the wings, and investigators are studying them and other safety issues to determine what caused the wings to fail.

Among other speakers Saturday was Col. Robert Thomas of the nearby Marine Corps Mountain Warfare Training Center.

Earlier this year, the Marines received a $10 million bill for costs of putting out the nearly 23,000-acre fire.

The fire broke out in an area where dozens of practice campfires had been set by Marine mountain warfare trainees.


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