Crew believed to be Carson Valley residents
WALKER, Calif. — The pilot and two crew members killed Monday when a C-130 air tanker crashed just north of here are believed to be Carson Valley residents.
Their names were not immediately released. They are based at the Sierra Front Interagency Fire Dispatch, a wildland firefighting agency located at the Minden-Tahoe Airport.
Witnesses said they saw both of the plane’s wings bend upward as it apparently caught a downdraft after flying through a canyon on the north end of the town of Walker, about 60 miles south of Carson City.
“When it hit, everything shook,” said Rocky VanZant, 27, of Walker, who stood about a block from the crash site. “I saw it and the wings buckled. He should have never come down through that canyon. It was too windy. The fire was letting up already. He shouldn’t have been there.”
Video captured by a Reno television station and VanZant’s father showed the wings of the C-130 transport plane breaking off.
VanZant said the canyon’s mouth produces a wind sheer. He said that he watched the plane fly above him, circling around the canyon, coming in low and then falling straight to the ground. The fiery explosion sent a plume of black smoke into the air.
“God bless those men,” VanZant said. “They died for us.”
Several witnesses reported seeing the wings buckle as the aircraft went down.
“We were standing outside with the news guys and all of a sudden, it just dropped,” said Vickie Denouden of Walker, who lives about two blocks from the crash site.
The explosion sent a “mushroom-like” cloud into the air, added witness Gary Johnson. “You could feel the percussion of it.”
According to a press officer at the staging area located at Coleville High School, the cause of the crash is not known. All air-firefighting, including helicopters was suspended as a team of Federal Aviation Administration investigators searched through the crash site.
A fuselage and parts of the plane’s wings were scattered across the empty field.
Meanwhile, the fire took a took a turn for the worse late Monday, when wind-fueled flames pushed flames east of Walker into a canyon filled with homes. At about 6:30 p.m., teams of deputies began evacuation of nearby homes in the canyon, two miles east of Walker.
Flames shot up pinon and sagebrush, causing heavy smoke that began to filter into the town. At 1 p.m. fire officials allowed about 400 residents west of the fire to return to their homes.