French waterbomber crashes during forest fire, one pilot dead

Gerard JOYON

A Grumman S2F Tracker of the French Civil Security crashed near Générac, France, during an intervention on forest fires. The pilot was killed.

The plane was fighting criminal forest fires in the region of Générac, Southern France. According to witnesses, the Tracker was in a climbing phase when it entered a thick smoke, of which it came out at a very low altitude and leaning to the left. 

The BEA–É, the office responsible for investigating aviation accidents and incidents of state aircraft, has opened an investigation into the cause of the accident. “The initial hypothesis is that the pilot lost his bearings,” a source close to the investigation told AFP, adding “the pilot, who was in a descending phase, entered a very thick column of smoke and hit the treetops”.

The firefighter on board was a former French air force Mirage 2000N fighter pilot with 28 years of experience. Emmanuel Macron paid him hommage. “Tonight a water bomber pilot died in Générac fighting the flames,” the French president wrote on Twitter, adding “he gave his life to save the lives of others. This is the daily life of all firefighters in France”.

In the summer of 2005, Two French Tracker aircraft crashed in similar conditions during an intervention on a forest fire.

The Grumman S2F Tracker was designed in the 50s, initially for anti-submarine warfare. After it was retired from military service in 1976, the plane was converted into a water bomber by the State of California. The Canadian company Conair was contracted to do the conversion, called Firecat. It can carry up to 3,400 liters of water and fire retardant.

In France, the Tracker’s main mission is to carry out single-pilot preventive patrols with their tank full (guet aérien armé) in order to intervene as fast as possible on any fire departure. They are the first responder and are replaced by the heavier Canadairs if the fire persists.

The Tracker S2F was supposed to be retired from service in 2008, but according to a report from the French Senate, “a program of technical revision of large scale was launched in order to keep them in activity until 2020”.

The crash happened near Nîmes-Garons Airport (FNI), the base of the French Civil Security with a fleet of 25 firefighter aircraft. The agency also operates the Dash 8 Q 400 MR (expected to eventually replace the Tracker) and the Canadair CL 415 as water bombers, as well as the Beechcraft King 200 for reconnaissance and coordination. They are flown by 71 pilots, mostly former servicemen.


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