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Firefighting pilot killed in small plane crash in Montana

Firefighting pilot killed in small plane crash in Montana

A pilot died when a single-engine firefighting aircraft crashed into a Montana reservoir Wednesday afternoon while scooping up water to fight a nearby blaze, officials said.

The crash was reported shortly after noon on Hauser Reservoir on the Missouri River northeast of Helena in Lewis and Clark County.

Law enforcement and search and rescue teams in boats responded, along with divers from Gallatin County.

Officials later said in a news conference that the “Scooper” plane’s pilot, a 45-year-old woman, died. They did not provide a name pending notification of next of kin who do not live in the United States, the Independent Record newspaper reported.

“This is not just coming in and flying and picking up water. These are dangerous types of environments,” Lewis and Clark County Sheriff Leo Dutton said.

The Federal Aviation Administration, the National Transportation Safety Board and the U.S. Forest Service will investigate the crash of the Air Tractor AT-802, which was working for the Forest Service and contracted out of Idaho.

FILE — An Air Tractor AT-802A flies above a wildfire on the Greek island of Rhodes, on July 26, 2023.

STR/NurPhoto via Getty Images


The pilot was part of a crew fighting the nearby Horse Gulch Fire, a 600-acre human-caused blaze burning in dense timber in the Helena-Lewis and Clark National Forest about 5 miles south of the town of York. The fire started Tuesday, and the sheriff’s office ordered some residents to evacuate Wednesday afternoon. The fire has no containment.

“We are deeply saddened to learn of the passing of the young female wildland firefighter who tragically lost her life responding to the Horse Gulch fire in Helena, Montana,” Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte and Idaho Gov. Brad Little said in a joint statement. “Our first responders and wildland firefighters put their lives on the line to quickly respond to threats and protect our communities. It’s a true act of bravery to run toward a fire.”

High temperatures in the Helena area have been above 90 degrees Fahrenheit for several days and were forecast to reach 100 degrees on Wednesday.