It will be months before the NTSB releases a final report on the July 10 crash of an air attack aircraft in Arizona
During the investigation of the crash of the Beechcraft King Air C90 on July 10 in which two aerial firefighters were killed in Arizona, one of the facts that the investigators will consider is that the C90 was one of the models mentioned in a recent FAA Airworthiness Directive (AD). Beginning January 11, 2021, AD #85 FR 78699 required inspection of certain Beechcraft King Air and Queen Air models due to a danger of wing separation.
The directive was came about after Textron Aviation, who now holds the type certificates, received reports of fatigue cracks in the lower forward wing fitting on two airplanes. An investigation revealed that installing washer P/N 90-380058-1 on the wing bolt will cause a premature torque indication. The fix is to inspect the washer and replace it, if applicable, with washer P/N 90-380019-1.
It will be many months before the final report is released by the National Transportation Safety Board and the true cause is made public. But we can’t ignore the facts that the Arizona Republic interviewed a woman who saw the aircraft from her home coming down at a “steep angle” and then “slam into the ground.” An hour later she and her husband drove to an area near the crash. They said Bureau of Land Management employees told them they they witnessed a wing fall off the plane in the air before it crashed.
At the time of the crash Pilot Matthew Miller, 48, and Air Tactical Group Supervisor (ATGS) Jeff Piechura, 62, were on board conducting visual reconnaissance and aviation command and control over the fire.
Today we talked with an ATGS who told us that many of the aircraft they work out of are quite old, and if maintenance isn’t kept to a rigorous standard the risks go up.
Another ATGS gave us an open-ended question: “What is the role of the U.S. Forest Service in the oversight and monitoring of contract air attack aircraft?”
The age of an aircraft is not proof that it is airworthy or not, but the plane that crashed July 10 was N3688P, manufactured 41 years ago.
Hopefully the cause of the crash, whatever it was, can lead to changes and lessons learned that will provide a safer working environment for our aerial firefighters.