Air tanker crashes battling wildfire in Utah, pilot killed

ST. GEORGE, Utah (AP) - The pilot of a single-engine air tanker battling a wildfire in southern Utah was killed Thursday evening when the plane crashed.

The contract plane went down 14 miles north of St. George about 6 p.m., said Bureau of Land Management spokesman Wendell Peacock.

The pilot was identified as Wayne Turner, 58, of Big Sandy, Mont., a contract pilot with more than 21,000 hours of flying experience. He was flying for New Frontier Aviation, based in Fort Benton, Mont.

The plane was a Dromader M-18, one of 76 single-engine air tankers contracted by the Bureau of Land Management to fight wildland fires throughout the country.

The pilot had just dumped a load of retardant when his plane either stalled or pitched, said Dammeron Valley resident Andrew Tomer, who saw the accident.

Within a few seconds the plane crashed and burned. Within a few minutes, a helicopter and plane made drops on the fire started from the crashed aircraft, Tomer told The Spectrum.

The plane was not one of the old, heavy, multiengine air tankers that the government has grounded out of safety concerns.

The single-engine tankers are basically crop dusters retrofitted to drop water, retardant or seed, Peacock said.

Other aircraft assisting in the fire were grounded, according to procedure, spokesman David Eaker said. He did not know if they would be back in use Friday.

Bureau of Land Management spokesman David Boyd said the major, south portion of the Dammeron Complex fire, had burned about 3,600 acres and had not spread much since Thursday morning. It was expected to be contained by Saturday.


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