Another fire-fighting aircraft crash kills two

22nd August 2005, Comments 0 comments

LYON, France, Aug 20 (AFP) - A fire-fighting aircraft crashed Saturday as it was tackling a blaze in southeastern France, killing the two crew members on board, French officials said.

LYON, France, Aug 20 (AFP) - A fire-fighting aircraft crashed Saturday as it was tackling a blaze in southeastern France, killing the two crew members on board, French officials said.

The accident was the latest of several this year involving aircraft battling forest fires in France.

The Grumman Tracker aircraft went down "on the edge of the fire" near Valgorge in the Ardeche region, where 15 hectares (37 acres) of forest were burning Saturday morning, officials said, as witnesses spoke of apparent engine trouble.

The victims were a 43-year-old trainee pilot, Albert Pouzoulet, and his 45-year-old instructor, Regis Huillier, who were married with two and three children respectively, said civil defence spokesman Major Eric Soupra.

It was not yet known which of the two men had been at the plane's controls, he said, adding that this would be up to investigators to determine.

Valgorge mayor Bernard Bonin quoted witnesses as saying they heard noises as if an engine was failing.

Another witness quoted by the regional authorities said the red and white plane appeared to have an engine problem after dropping its load of fire retardant on the blaze.

Ardeche regional official Patrick Duprat said that two Trackers were fighting the flames, backing up 150 firemen on the ground, along with two Canadair amphibian water bombers and the latest addition to the fleet, a Canadian-built Dash-8.

Conditions were good despite some wind, he said.

Bonin alleged that the fire had been deliberately set.

The bodies of the two men were found at a height of some 800m (2,500 feet) and were to be brought out by helicopter later Saturday. Prosecutor Ghani Bouguera said an inquiry had been launched to determine if human error or technical problems were to blame.

French President Jacques Chirac, expressing shock at the accident, addressed his condolences to the families and colleagues of the dead pilots who had "once again paid with their lives for their commitment to the service of our fellow citizens," assuring them of his solidarity and support.

Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy said, "This new accident reminds us once again of the heavy price paid each year by the firemen, the pilots and co-pilots of the civil defence in the fight against forest fires."

Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin also paid homage, saying the pilots exemplified "the courage and devotion to duty of the men and women of the civil defence service who are engaged in the fight against fires and the protection of our fellow citizens."

On August 1, the pilot and co-pilot of a Canadair plane died when the aircraft crashed on the French Mediterranean island of Corsica. On July 19, a Tracker crashed in the southeastern Var region but the pilot escaped unhurt.

On August 14, a Dutch pilot for a private company died when his small plane hired by local authorities crashed into the sea just after dropping two loads of fire-retardant chemicals on a fire at an unauthorized gypsy camp near the Mediterranean town of Serignan.

The twin-engined Tracker, a Canadian-developed fire-fighting version of a US Navy carrier-borne anti-submarine aircraft, has been in service with the French civil defence for more than 20 years, according to the website of the squadron based at Marignane, near Marseille.

Although re-engined, the basic airframes, either Canadian or US-built, are some 50 years old, according to the site.

"This is getting to be a lot for this year. It is very hard on our profession," pilots' union leader Alain Huet said.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news, firefighters, Canadair, Sarkozy, Chirac, Villepin, forest fires

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