A Cold War-era Lockheed P2V tanker crashed in western Utah on Sunday, killing two pilots who had been battling a lightning-sparked wildfire. Eyewitnesses said it appeared a wingtip hit the ground in a rocky canyon as the airplane was dropping its fire retardant. The P2V disintegrated on impact, leaving a 1,000-foot-long debris field, officials said.
Firefighting crews tried to keep the fire from consuming the wreckage site to give sheriff's deputies time to confirm the pilots had died, but flames soon swept through the area. The pilots’ bodies were eventually recovered later in the day.
By Tuesday, the fire had grown to 8,000 acres with 15 percent containment, authorities said.
The crash has renewed calls for more funding to replace aging firefighting aircraft in the wake of a number of crashes in the last several years.
“As the air tanker fleet continues to atrophy, it’s going to reduce the country’s ability to get there early, which is why so many of these fires mushroom,” Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), chairman of the Forestry Subcommittee, said Monday. Wyden is leading a push by a group of senators from Western states to convince the U.S. Forest Service to bring newer firefighting airplanes into service.
The twin-engine P2V was developed during World War II as a submarine hunter. It entered service late in the war and remained in military service until the 1980s. The airplane that crashed on Sunday was built in 1962 and owned by Neptune Aviation Services of Missoula, Montana, according to FAA records.