Two Idaho pilots died Sunday when their air tanker crashed as they were fighting a wildfire in Iron County.
Captain Todd Neal Tompkins, 48, and first officer Ronnie Edwin Chambless, 40, were flying a P-2V heavy air tanker that went down about 2 p.m. in the area of the White Rock Fire, about 22 miles west of Modena, said officials with the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.
The private plane, which was contracted through Neptune Aviation Services, of Missoula, Mont, was dropping retardant on the fire, said Iron County sheriff’s Detective Sgt. Jody Edwards. A crew on a helicopter nearby saw the crash and told ground crews that “it didn’t look good,” Edwards said.
As the fire approached the crash site, the helicopter crew and BLM ground crews tried to hold the fire line back from the wreckage. Iron County sheriff’s deputies drove and hiked for more than an hour to reach the site and confirm the pilots had died, Edwards said.
The fire, which is burning on 5,000 acres, later overwhelmed the crash site, Edwards said. A medical examiner was helping sheriff’s officers recover the body as of Sunday night.
The White Rock Fire has been burning since Friday, according to the BLM. It was caused by lightning. The BLM is working to fully contain the fire to protect habitat of sage grouse and other wildlife, and for firefighter and public safety. Full containment is expected by Saturday evening.