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7th of May 2004, Blog #598

Just before 21.30 (lt) at the mining airstrip of Ganes Creek (Alaska, USA) the crew (pilot & copilot) of a Douglas C-54 Skymaster was getting the aircraft ready for a positioning flight to Fairbanks International Airport (Alaska, USA).

The aircraft at the mining strip (Source; © Unknown)

After completing the required external and internal checks the crew initiated the starting of the aircraft's four 1450 hp Pratt & Whitney R-2000 engines. After starting engine #4 (Right-hand outboard), engines #3 and #2 started without a problem. Also, the last engine, #1 started normally, however after the start was completed an explosion rocked the aircraft and its occupants. The explosion occurred in the area aft of the number 1 engine firewall and number 1 auxiliary fuel tank, a tank normally not used. As the aircraft was parked next to the fuel storage tank for the mine the pilot added power to the other engines in an attempt to move the aircraft away from the fuel storage tank. Shortly after the aircraft started to move the #1 engine, including its firewall fell off the burning wing nearly immediately followed by the separation of the outboard left wing. Although the wing structure had failed the flight control cables remained connected resulting in the wing section folding backwards, being dragged along by the aircraft. The pilot taxied the airplane about 200 feet dragging the burning wing section along and stopping the aircraft adjacent to a pond of water. The other engines were shut down, after which the crew evacuated the aircraft, there were no injuries.

The aircraft at the mining strip (Source; © Unknown)

Personnel from the mine responded to the explosion with a bulldozer and water pump. The bulldozer was used to move the aircraft another 200 feet after which water was applied to the aircraft until the fire was extinguished. Sections of the failed wing were sent to the FAA office in Fairbanks where the following observations were made;

  • The upper wing surface was blown away in the explosion, and the area over the auxiliary fuel tank was not charred or sooted.

  • The lower wing surface near the auxiliary boost pump was sooted and charred

  • The engine #1 firewall and cowlings were not sooted or charred.

  • The auxiliary boost pump body was sooted but not affected by the explosion or fire. The wire connectors on the pump and a fuel line were melted.

  • The #1 Aux Pump control switch action is rough. Performing a continuity check on the switch revealed the switch would close part-way through the stroke and open when the action reached the full stroke."

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) determined the probable cause(s) of this accident to be;

"A fuel tank explosion in the left wing auxiliary fuel tank, and subsequent fuel fire that occurred during engine start for an undetermined reason."

The aircraft as it sat at the airstrip in June 2022 (Source; ©Andy Fonseca)

The NTSB Aviation Accident Final Report which served as a source for this blog can be accessed by clicking on the .pdf file below;

C-54 Explosion 5-mei-2004
Download PDF • 106KB

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