National Wildfire Coordinating Group

SEAT Accident (Colorado) – August 27, 2008


This Day in History is a brief summary of a powerful learning opportunity and is not intended to second guess or be judgmental of decisions and actions. Put yourself in the following situation as if you do not know the outcome. What are the conditions? What are you thinking? What are YOU doing?

Incident Summary:

A Single Engine Air Tanker (SEAT) is directed by Air Attack to drop on the right flank of the

Flat Bush Fire. During the first retardant drop the SEAT’s flight pattern takes the aircraft in close proximity to staged firefighters and vehicles. During the drop sequence the pilot’s side cockpit door comes open and forces him to abbreviate the drop. The pilot relays to Air Attack that he has a problem with his “door”, and having just seen the

 abbreviated drop, Air Attack assumes the problem door is the retardant gate. He asks several times about the status

of the pilot and aircraft. At no time did Air Attack understand that the problem was actually with the cockpit door. The pilot requests to jettison the remaining retardant. Air Attack assumes the problem is corrected and asks the pilot to reinforce the previous drop. The pilot agrees with this request.

On approach for the second drop, the pilot uses an aggressive turn at low altitude to align the aircraft for the drop. The approach is directly over the top of the firefighters again. As a result of the aggressive maneuver, the aircraft stalls and crashes. Debris from the accident damages two wildland fire engines and narrowly misses the six firefighters. The aircraft’s engine lands just 6 feet from an occupied vehicle. The crew is unharmed, the vehicles receive minor shrapnel damage, and although the aircraft is destroyed, the pilot only receives minor injuries.

Discussion Points:

Aerial photo of the mishap site.Apply the concept of LCES to this incident; not from a fire perspective but an aviation point of view.

(L) Lookouts look for hazards (situations and actions) and communicate them. Aircraft flying directly overhead are a hazard. Helicopters accidentally release longlines, buckets and sling loads multiple times each season. Water and retardant drops often miss intended targets, creating the potential for injury by the drops themselves or debris from vegetation.

  • What are options for mitigation if your lookout or others recognize ground forces in a flight path?

(C) Communication: If you see something wrong…say something!

  • Who should ground forces communicate with in the instance of being in a flight path?

(E & S) Just as for wildland fire, escape routes and safety zones are needed for aviation operations as well. Keep in mind that if something goes wrong with an aircraft, ground crews may not have time to move to a safer location.

  • How can we prepare for and attempt to avoid being in a flight path?


This Day in History
Page Last Modified / Reviewed: 
Aug 2021

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