The wrong fuel caused an Alaska Division of Forestry plane to plummet into freezing water in May, according to a preliminary report from the National Transportation Safety Board.
Three firefighters and one pilot took off from the Aniak runway on May 28. They were first heading to McGrath, and then to Soldotna to start fighting fires, but they didn’t make it.
Instead, they crash-landed in a pond right off the runway. All four survived. Three had injuries that required surgery, including the pilot, Mark Jordan.
The NTSB report says that a vendor tasked with filling up the plane was unclear which kind of fuel to use for the type of airplane and filled it up with the wrong kind. The Forestry airplane is an Aero Commander 500 Shrike, which only uses a certain type of fuel.
The fuel vendor asked the pilot if he wanted “prist with your jet.” Prist is a type of chemical that prevents fuel from gelling in planes that fly higher altitudes. And “jet” refers to Jet A fuel. The pilot said no. The fuel vendor filled it up with Jet A fuel, and wrote that down on a receipt that he then handed the pilot, who signed it.
Jordan said that as he took off, he felt “mechanical turbulence” and the aircraft struggled to climb. Unable to maintain altitude, he aimed for the shallow pond. That was the last thing he remembered. Five Aniak teenagers happened by and saw two of the firefighters struggle out of the plane. They helped rescue Jordan and the three passengers. The plane itself is totaled.
“Like with any accident or incident, we conducted an after-action review of the incident to try to pull any lessons learned out of it that we could, to see if there needs to be any policy changes or anything that we can do to make for a safer aviation program,” said Tim Mowry, spokesperson for the Alaska Division of Forestry.
Mowry said that those changes will not be made until NTSB issues its final report, which will be roughly six months from now.
Meanwhile, Jordan is out for this fire season. The three other firefighters are also recovering. Mowry said that only one of them, who is from Aniak, has recovered enough go back to fighting fires.