US safety investigators are probing two separate P2V Neptune aerial firefighting tanker accidents on 3 June, both of which were involved in efforts to extinguish or contain wildfires.
Shortly before 13:00h on 3 June, a P2V-7 (N14447) owned by Neptune Aviation Services flying under contract to the US Forest Service crashed when nearing the "White Rock fire" in Iron County, Utah, killing both pilots on board.
The aircraft held approximately 7,580l (2,000gal) of fire retardant and 6,064l of fuel during its second run of the day, according to the Iron County sheriff's office. "The plane crashed over the fire line and in the pathway of the oncoming fire," the sheriff's office says. The fire was started by a lightning strike on 1 June.
According to FAA records, the twin-engined P2V-7 was built in 1962 and powered by Wright R3350 radial engines.
Tanker 11 (N41117) drops retardant in an undated photo
After the crash, other aircraft in the vicinity "fought the fire courageously to keep it from encroaching upon the wreckage" until officials were able to "assess the scene and determine the fatality of both crew members", the sheriff's office says.
No information was provided as to the condition of the aircraft just before the crash, in terms of structural integrity. Catastrophic structural failure was a key element in several high profile tanker crashes in the early 2000s, leading to retirement of certain models and increased structural attention on the aircraft that remained.
Later in the afternoon on 3 June, a P2V (N355MA) built in 1957 and owned by Minden Air sustained damage after landing with a partially extended landing gear at the Minden-Tahoe airport in Nevada, according to the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) preliminary accident report. Neither crew member was injured.
Local media reported that the aircraft was fighting a wildfire near the airport.