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Wildfire crew members die when plane hits mountain

SALT LAKE CITY – A converted military plane crashed in heavy fog in the Oquirrh Mountains, killing three crew members of a private Montana-based firefighting company, the Tooele County sheriff said Saturday.

Sheriff Frank Park said the plane was en route from Missoula to Alamogordo, N.M., when it failed to clear a mountain pass in Utah.

The crew members for Neptune Aviation, of Missoula, were bound for southern New Mexico to help fight a 19,000-acre wildfire, said Dan Ware, a spokesman for the New Mexico Forestry Division.

“While we must pause to mourn their loss, within the wildland community we must also honor them by continuing to fight fires to protect our communities,” state forester Arthur Blazer said.

The wildfire, 20 percent contained, was threatening a home and several outbuildings and a power distribution line, officials said.

The sheriff identified the pilot as Tom Risk, 66, of Littleton, Colo., and crew members as Mike Flynn, 59, of Alamogordo, N. M., and Brian Buss, 32, of Alberton, Mont.

Park said the Neptune, a plane developed during the Korean War that is commonly used to fight wildfires, had been equipped for dropping fire retardant.

Park said visibility was only 100 feet when the plane failed to clear Stockton Pass. It missed the pass by an eighth of a mile and slammed into a mountain instead, but should have been flying much higher, he said.