COLD LAKE, Alta. – Police say wildfire conditions at the scene of the crash of a firefighting plane in northern Alberta are making it difficult for investigators to reach the site.
The small aircraft used for fire suppression crashed Friday while battling a wildfire near Cold Lake, killing the 38-year-old pilot and only person onboard. He was from Cranbrook, according to reports from Global News, and had been fighting wild fires for four years.
As of presstime, the identity of the pilot had not been released.
Mounties say the site is inside the Cold Lake Air Weapons Range, an area used by military pilots for weapons training.
RCMP Cpl. Mike Dunsmore said the military and search and rescue personnel escorted police into the crash site late Friday and helped recover the body of the pilot.
But on Saturday, Dunsmore said the fire, which the province reported Saturday has grown to 40 square kilometres since it started a day earlier, is making it challenging for Transportation Safety Board investigators to safely enter the area.
Jon Lee, the regional manager for the TSB, said investigators were headed to the site in a helicopter on Saturday afternoon with a provincial wildfire official to see if it would be safe to land.
“If it is, they’ll set down. If not, they’ll re-assess,” said Lee, noting the decision would be up to the provincial official.
Crews in northern Alberta have been fighting wildfires for more than a week, and warm and dry conditions have increased the fire hazard to high or extreme in some areas.
The pilot who was killed worked for Conair Aerial Firefighting, and he and the plane were contracted by the Alberta government.
“First responders like this pilot, and our many other dedicated wildland firefighters, put their lives on the line every day to ensure that our homes and families are safe,” incoming premier Rachel Notley said in a statement that offered her condolences to the pilot’s family, friends and colleagues.
“We owe them our most sincere gratitude. Even as they mourn the loss of one of their own, I know they will continue fighting the many fires burning within our borders.”
Jeff Barry of Conair Aerial Firefighting said the pilot was in his fourth firefighting season with the company.
“We’ve sent our accident investigation team and we’ll be co-operating with the Transportation Safety Board and the Alberta ESRD (Environment and Sustainable Resource Development) folks will be there as well,” Barry said Friday.
Barry said the plane was a single-seater Air Tractor 802, known in the company as the “Fire Boss.” The company’s website said the amphibious plane is used to scoop up water from lakes or deliver fire retardent.
Police said in a news release on Saturday that the crash scene has been secured.
Lee said the crash investigation was still in the early stages and he couldn’t speculate on the cause.