Pilot dies after forest fire-fighting plane crashes near Cold Lake

WATCH ABOVE: A seasoned pilot is dead after the plane he was in crashed while fighting a large wildfire on the Cold Lake Weapons Range. 

EDMONTON – A 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, B.C. and had been fighting wild fires for four years.

The crash happened on the Cold Lake Air Weapons Range, about 100 kilometres east of Lac La Biche, around 4:30 p.m.

The area where the plane crashed was extremely remote. Search and Rescue crews with the Department of National Defence were called in to assist in the rescue effort.

“Due to the remote nature of the site, the responding members were transported to the site via helicopter,” said Cpl. Mike Dunsmore.

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Jeff Berry, the director of business development with Conair Aerial Firefighting, says the pilot had been with the company for four seasons and had a “great deal of experience.”

Berry says the plane was a single-pilot Air Tractor 802, known as a “Fire Boss.” The aircraft skims water off a lake to dump on wildfires.

“If it was dangerous it’s not something we would do. It does have risks and our whole job, our entire focus as an aero-firefighting company is to manage those risks,” Berry said Saturday morning.

“The focus of the investigation is going to be to find out what went wrong and see what we can do, if anything … to amend our policies and procedures to prevent it from happening again.”

At this point RCMP say it’s too early to say what caused the crash. The Transportation Safety Board has been called in to investigate.

Incoming premier Rachel Notley released a statement, offering her condolences to the man’s family, friends and colleagues.

“First responders like this pilot, and our many other dedicated wild land firefighters, put their lives on the line every day to ensure that our homes and families are safe,” said Notley.

“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.”

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As of Saturday morning, the fire was about 3,000 hectares in size. By 2:30 p.m. Saturday afternoon it grew to 4,000 hectares. The fire hazard in the area is listed as extreme, as is the case in many areas of province.

Crews in northern Alberta have been fighting wildfires for more than a week. On Friday, fire crews from Ontario arrived in Alberta to help in the fight.

For the latest fire conditions and bans, visit the Alberta fire bans website.

*Editor’s note: This story was originally published Friday, May 23, 2015. It was updated at 12:09 p.m. Saturday to include information about the pilot’s death.