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Last fire drop memorializes fallen firefighters

by Regina Purcell

MINDEN – Weather permitting, a memorial last fire drop and fly-in to commemorate firefighting pilots based in Carson Valley will be at 9:30 a.m. Friday at the Minden-Tahoe Airport.

The last two years have been deadly for Douglas County-based firefighter pilots. On June 18, 2002, the base’s first fatal crash occurred during the Cannon Fire in Walker, Calif. Pilot Capt. Steve Wass, 42, of Gardnerville, was killed when his C-130A air tanker lost its wings and crashed into a field. The other crew members killed were Craig LaBare, 36, of Loomis, Calif., and Michael H. Davis, 59, of Bakersfield, Calif.

The final National Transportation Safety Board report cited “fatigue or stress cracks” as the likely cause of the accident.

On Oct. 3, Minden Air Corp. employees pilot captain Carl Dolbeare, 54, of Chandler, Ariz., and co-pilot John Attardo, 51, of Fort Collins, Colo., were killed when their P2V air tanker crashed nine miles west of San Bernardino, Calif. They were assisting at a fire in Arizona and coming back to a base camp in California. The cause of that crash is still under investigation by the Board.

Minden Air Corp. is owned by Leonard and Janet Parker, who have established a memorial fund for the Dolbeare and Attardo families. Minden-Tahoe Airport Manager Jim Braswell is working with the Parkers to plan Friday’s memorial service.

“The ceremony is to mark their final fire dispatch, not only for the crew we lost, but also for Steve Wass and his crew and for all the firefighters,” Len Parker said.

The surviving family members include Dolbeare’s brother, David Bean and his mother, Gwen Bean, all of Arizona, and Attardo’s wife, Tina, of Colorado. Parker said the families held their own memorial services in their respective states.

After the crash that killed Wass, the U.S. Forest Service organized a blue ribbon commission with the safety board that determined the crash was a part of a bigger issue – old and outdated firefighting aircraft. The issue is being studied by the House Subcommittee on Forest and Forest Health, headed by Sen. Scott McInnis, R-Colo.

Following the accidents, the federal government grounded all C-130A air tankers and PB-4Y2s.

The National Fire Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho, that oversees Western states, including Carson City and Douglas County firefighting efforts, does not use the C-130A and PB-4Y2, nor do other federal firefighting organizations like the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management.