Portuguese pilot dies fighting a wildfire Foz Côa, Portugal
An Air Tractor AT-802AF Fire Boss water bomber fighting forest fires in Portugal crashed near Vila Nova de Foz Coa in the Guarda region (North) early in the evening on Friday, 15 July 2022, causing the civilian death of the pilot. The pilot has now been identified as André Rafael Serra, aged 32. Serra died after the Fire Boss (single pilot) aircraft he was flying came down in a vineyard in Castelo Melhor, Foz Côa. According to local mayor João Paulo Sousa, damage was so extensive that “the model of plane could not be identified, although everything indicates it was a Fire Boss”.
Rescue services rushed to the scene, with a helicopter from Civil Protection also dispatched.
The Air Tractor AT-802AF Fire Boss went down near the town of Torre de Moncorvo after scooping water on the Douro river. The pilot was the only person on board the single engine air tanker that had departed from Viseu-Gonçalves Lobato Airport (VSE/LPVZ). Photos show that the aircraft was severely damaged. Joao Sousa, mayor of the town of Foz Coa where the incident took place, told Lusa news agency the pilot was pronounced dead at the scene.
The aircraft was operated by Titan Aerial Firefighting, which has offices in Spain. The company announced on Saturday that the pilot was André Serra, from Agromontiar.
Mayor Sousa has been telling SIC Notícias the accident appears to have happened as the pilot was “trying to fill up in the Douro River”. According to the mayor, the plane’s engine may not have been able to pull up in time, leading to the plane crashing into the terraces of the ‘Quinta do Crasto’ vineyard. All this is hearsay for the being and will need to be established by forensic investigation.
Pilot had 12 years flying experience
Jornal de Notícias has described André Rafael Serra as an experienced pilot. “He had 12 years flying experience of these type of planes, in the context of formation and in action”, says the paper.
“André Rafael Serra was married and lived in Lisbon. He joined the Portuguese Air Force in 2009 and was considered an experienced pilot. Close to 20.00 hours, André Rafael Serra was flying the amphibian Fire Boss in combat of a fire in Urra, Torre de Moncorvo, when he went to fill up with water at the Douro River in Castelo Melhor, Vila Nova de Foz Côa
“With the plane full, at the point of leaving from filling in Quinta do Crasto, it hit the first terrace of a vineyard, and then hit two more before coming down. The aircraft fell into the property, next to the EN222. A small fire resulted from the crash, which was quickly extinguished by firefighting means that were close by. The body was found carbonised but only an autopsy will reveal the cause of death”.
Adding to the tragedy, André Serra’s widow, nurse Catarina Branco only two days ago shared a post on her Facebook page featuring a fire fighting plane discharging water over the landscape, with words from another aviator, who wrote: “On days like today it is impossible not to think of the brave fire fighters who fight forest fires and the pilots who support them. In the world of aviation, I don’t know a more difficult or dangerous activity. Here I leave the testimony of my immense admiration and respect. Well done”.
The death came as fires continued to rage across Portugal, neighbouring Spain and in France.
Portugal has been particularly hard hit by wildfires this week. More than 3 000 fire fighters battled alongside ordinary Portuguese citizens desperate to save their homes from several wildfires that raged across the country, fanned by extreme temperatures and drought conditions. The country’s Civil Protection Agency said 10 fires were still raging Friday, with ones in the north causing the most concern.
The pilot was the first fatal victim in fires in Portugal so far this year. More than 160 people have been injured and hundreds of people evacuated from towns this week.
Portuguese state television RTP reported Friday that the area burned this year has already exceeded the total for 2021. More than 30 000 hectares of land has been burned, it said, most in the past week.
Meanwhile, Portuguese authorities said a July national high of 47 degrees Celsius was registered in the northern town of Pinhao on Wednesday, the hottest day of the year so far.
In France, 1 000 fire fighters and 10 water-dumping aircraft contended with high temperatures and strong winds to try to contain two wildfires in the Bordeaux region of southwestern France that have forced the evacuation of 11 300 people and ravaged pine forests near the Atlantic coast.
One of the French fires is in woodlands just south of the Atlantic resort town of Arcachon, a major attraction for visitors during the summer season. The other is in parkland not far from valleys dotted with vineyards that have struggled with hotter, drier weather than usual this year that authorities have linked to climate change. More than 7 000 hectares of land have been consumed by the fires, according to the regional emergency service. As the fires stretched into a fourth day Friday, one was partially contained, it said but warned that hotter temperatures and winds over the weekend could further complicate firefighting efforts. “We are living through an exceptionally harsh (summer) season,” French President Emmanuel Macron said Friday during a visit to the government crisis management centre at the Interior Ministry in Paris. The amount of French forest burned in fires this year is already triple that destroyed in 2020, Macron said.
Some of the fire fighting aircraft and equipment that were supposed to be displayed in Thursday’s Bastille Day parade in Paris were diverted for use on the Bordeaux region fires. Wildfires also broke out in southeast France and north of Paris.
Spain, Croatia and Hungary have also fought wildfires this week. For a fifth day, fire fighters in Spain were battling Friday to try to bring under control a fire started by a lightning strike in the west-central Las Hurdes area that has consumed about 5 500 hectares. Some 400 people from eight villages were evacuated late Thursday as the flames approached their houses and threatened to spread into the nearby Monfrague National Park.
The government said Friday that 17 fires across Spain kept fire fighters busy. In northeastern Catalonia, authorities restricted access to several mountain areas to avoid possible fires.
The European Union has urged member states to prepare for wildfires this summer as the continent faces another extreme weather shift that scientists say is being triggered by climate change.
In the Spanish city of Seville, one of the hottest spots in Europe this week, some unions called for workers to be sent home. Temperatures in many parts of Spain have been topping the 40 degree Celsius mark for several days and are expected to keep doing so through next week.
“Climate-driven extreme heat is killing more people than any other of the climate-driven hazards. Heat is invisible, it is silent and it kills slowly and people are not aware of it,” said Kathy Baughman McLeod, director of the Arsht-Rockefeller Resilience Centre of the Atlantic Council.
Source: The Portugal Resident, AP News