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Paper: Pilot Error Behind 2005 P-3 Accident

Investigation Says Airframe Not To Blame

It wasn't an airframe problem that brought down a firefighting P-3 Orion in California last year... it was pilot error. That's the conclusion of an investigation by the San Mateo County Times... whose reporters talked with industry experts, pilots, and aviation consultants.

As Aero-News reported, the aircraft (file photo of type, above) went down in April of last year while on a training mission near Chico. The paper's investigation indicates Aero-Union Tanker 26 was flying down the middle of a valley when it strayed east.

Experts consulted by the newspaper say it appears to have been a case of controlled flight into terrain... an assertion they back up with Navy radar data showing the Orion's flight track.

No one's sure which of the three men killed in the crash was flying the plane -- Brian Bruns, Paul Cockrell, or Tom Lynch -- was actually in command of the aircraft when it went down, and the crew issued no distress call.

The Orion wasn't equipped with any sort of flight recorder.

The official NTSB finding of probable cause is still months away. But if the board does cite pulot error as the cause of this crash... it would clear Aero-Union's aging fleet of P-3s... which make up about half the country's entire firefighting tanker fleet.

FMI: Read The NTSB Factual Report

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