Russian firefighting aircraft starts fires in Portugal

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Saturday, July 8, 2006

Location of Santa Comba Dão.
The accident occurred at the dam of Aguieira during an refueling operation.

The Russian Beriev 200 airplane leased to the Portuguese Government suffered an accident last Thursday (July 6) afternoon, after one of its engines was damaged.

The accident occurred after a refueling operation at the dam of Aguieira, near Santa Comba Dão. As the aerial firefighting aircraft took off at the end of the refueling maneuver in the water - designated as 'scooping' - its "left wing hit the top of the trees and the aircraft suffered some damage" to its fuselage, said Colonel Anacleto dos Santos, director of the Cabinet of Prevention and Investigation of Accidents with Aircraft (GPIAA), to the Portuguese newspaper Correio da Manhã.

While hitting the top of the trees, leaves and some wood entered the left engine, which didn't blow up, but that had to be turned off and the pilot was forced to release fuel for safety reasons. The release of the fuel started small wildfires across the area, reaching some houses, which were quickly extinguished by firefighters and helitack units of the GNR's Intervention, Protection and Rescue Group.

The airplane was able to do an emergency landing at the Monte Real Air Base, where it's currently operating from, thanks to the flight experience of one of the Russian pilots. When contacted by the Lusa news agency, National Service of Firefighters and Civil Protection, vice-president Lieutenant-Colonel Joaquim Leitão explained that the repairs will be made by the aircraft company and that all the parts necessary to repair the damages will have to come from Russia, by which the solution for the problem will take "some days".

Lieutenant-Colonel Leitão added that an investigation is in progress to analyse the circumstances under which the accident occurred. And when he was asked if the accident was caused by the limitations of the dam, given the dimensions of the aircraft, he said that the reconnaissance of the area had been performed before the scooping exercises began, and an operation officially kicks off when all the conditions are met.

The final report of the GPIAA will only be concluded in a few weeks but GPIAA director, Colonel Anacleto dos Santos, excluded two of the eventual causes of any aerial accident. "The atmospheric conditions were not adverse and there are no indications of mechanical failure. Everything points to human error."

On board of the aircraft followed two Russian pilots - one of them still receiving formation - and an Portuguese pilot that was observing the operations.

Two years ago, the Italian authorities tested the Beriev in the same mission type. Having the Portuguese Government sent observers to evaluate the performance of the aircraft. However, some limitations were found in the performing of the Russian aircraft in Italy's wildfire scenarios. Having the Italian Civil Protection reached the conclusion that the Beriev 200 is not prepared to operate in mountainous terrain.

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