A firefighter battling the largest wildfire in state history was killed last month when thousands of gallons of flame-suppressing liquid were dropped from a Boeing 747 mistakenly flying only 100 feet above the treetops, according to an official report Friday.
The pilot and a supervisor flying ahead in a small guide plane led the giant modified jetliner nearly into the trees on Aug. 13 because the pilots failed to recognize that there was a hill in the flight path, according to the Green Sheet report by Cal Fire.
Because of the near ground-level release, the retardant struck with such force it uprooted an 87-foot Douglas fir that fell on Matthew Burchett, a 42-year-old battalion chief from Utah helping with the Mendocino Complex Fire.
Another large tree was snapped by the force of nearly 20,000 gallons of liquid and three firefighters were injured, one seriously.
The guide pilot "made a 'show me' run" for the 747 pilot over the intended path for the retardant drop, and marked the path for the jet with a smoke trail, according to the report.