US firefighter crushed by tree when retardant was dropped from plane only 30m above the treetops: report

A firefighter battling the largest wildfire in California history was killed last month when thousands of litres of flame-suppressing liquid was dropped from a Boeing 747 mistakenly flying only 30 metres above the treetops, according to an official report Friday (local time).

The pilot and a supervisor flying ahead in a small guide plane led the giant modified jetliner nearly into the trees on August 13 because the pilots failed to recognise that there was a hill in the flight path, according to the Green Sheet report by the state's firefighting agency.

Because of the near ground-level release, the retardant struck with such force it uprooted an 27 metres tree that fell on Matthew Burchett, a 42-year-old battalion chief from Utah helping with the Mendocino Complex Fire north of San Francisco.

Another large tree was snapped by the force of nearly 75,700 litres 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.

"Obscured by heavy vegetation and unknown to the (747) pilot, a rise in elevation occurred along the flight path." The ground sloped up about 50 metres so quickly that the 747 cleared the hilltop in just two seconds, according to the report.

The guide planes have two people aboard, a pilot and an "air tactical supervisor."

California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection spokesman Mike Mohler could not immediately say if either would face investigation or discipline for not identifying the hill.

The retardant drops were intended to help secure a fire break cut through the trees by a bulldozer to stop advancing flames.

Burchett and the other three firefighters were working on the hill next to the firebreak when the drop was announced over a radio and firefighters were told to "Clear the area out."

The four did not respond to the warning, though the report says that "when personnel are working under a tree canopy, supervisors must ensure the drop path is cleared."

It is not uncommon to have firefighters under retardant drops, Mohler said, though he could not say if the four firefighters knew they were in the flight path or why they didn't acknowledge or act on the radioed warning.

"We have ground troops under aircraft, it's not unusual at all. It's part of what we teach," he said.

A firefighter who can't move out of the way is trained to lie spread-eagled, face down, toward the oncoming aircraft, one hand holding the top of the helmet as it takes the brunt of the impact from the falling slurry and air turbulence that can threaten to lift a firefighter off the ground.

Burchett, a suburban Salt Lake City firefighter, was crushed by the uprooted tree, while the others were stuck by falling tree debris. Two had deep muscle contusions and ligament damage. One also suffered broken ribs, while the fourth firefighter had scratches and abrasions.

The report warns that some firefighters have used their cellphones to record retardant drops, which can be distracting and harm their ability to recognise the danger and take evasive action. But it does not say if any of the four injured firefighters was taking video at the time.

Firefighters Ryan Foley, center, and Andrew Arthen with San Bernardino Cal Fire make a stand in front of an advancing wildfire as they protect a home Friday, Aug. 10, 2018, in Lake Elsinore, Calif. Firefighters on Friday are protecting foothill neighborhoods in the city of Lake Elsinore near where the blaze flared up amid unpredictable winds a day earlier. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
Firefighters fighting the blaze that has been raging for days in California. Source: Associated Press



Queensland shark bite victims remain in hospital

A woman and a little girl bitten by a shark at the same location but in separate attacks in Queensland remain in hospital.

Hannah Papps, who lives in Melbourne with her Kiwi parents, was holidaying with her father and sister when she received a life-threatening wound to her right leg on Thursday while swimming in shallow water in Cid Harbour.

Her attack came after Tasmanian mother of two, Justine Barwick, 46, was bitten on her left thigh while snorkelling in the same area less than 24 hours earlier.

Both have now been transferred to hospitals in Brisbane where the 12-year-old is in a critical but stable condition and Ms Barwick was last known to be stable.

"We would like to thank everyone who has helped and cared for Hannah, including the police, emergency services and the hospital teams," her family said in a statement on Friday.

“We ask that everyone, including the media, please respect our family's privacy during this very difficult time so we can focus our energies on Hannah's recovery.”

Three baited hooks set by the Fisheries Department in the harbour on Friday will remain in place for at least a week as authorities try to catch a shark or sharks responsible.

It is the first-time baited hooks have been used in the popular Whitsundays holiday destination, where the tourism industry is still recovering following Cyclone Debbie in 2017.

The girl is Hannah Papps, who lives in Melbourne with her New Zealand parents. Source: 1 NEWS


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Obama in Pennsylvania, hoping to boost Democrats

Former US President Barack Obama turned his political attention to Pennsylvania today, a state Donald Trump won in 2016.

Obama campaigned in Philadelphia with two leading Democrats running for re-election, Governor Tom Wolf and US Senator Bob Casey.

At a campaign rally at the Dell Music Centre in Philadelphia, Obama implored Pennsylvanians to vote in November because the election was more consequential than any he could remember.

During the speech, Obama made no mention of his successor in the White House by name, but urged voters of all parties - not just Democrats - to vote to restore honesty, decency and lawfulness to government.

In the November 6 contests, Democrats are trying to oust Republicans in four U.S. House districts and more than a dozen state legislative seats in the Philadelphia area alone.

Obama twice carried Pennsylvania in his presidential races, and Democrats hope the state can help them retake control of Congress from the GOP.

Democrats in other states where Obama has campaigned recently say his stops have drawn big crowds, giving the party a chance to organise, update voter contact lists, motivate new donors and boost volunteerism.

Obama planned a fundraiser after the Philadelphia rally.

Donald Trump won the state in the 2016 election. Source: Associated Press


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Most watched: US man who impregnated 10-year-old girl given 160 years behind bars

This story was first published on Saturday September 23.

Nicholas Deon Thrash

An Indiana man has been sentenced to more than 100 years in jail for molesting a 10-year-old girl multiple times leading to her becoming pregnant.

Fox News reports that Nicholas Deon Thrash, 34, of Marion, Indiana was given 160 years in jail with a minimum service of 132 years yesterday.

Last month during his trial Thrash was found guilty of 10 counts of child molestation.

In a testimony his 10-year-old victim testified that she had been molested by Thrash at least 15 times.

The mother of the girl is facing charges of neglect, aiding in child molesting and assisting a criminal over the case.

She reportedly discovered her daughter's pregnancy when the 10-year-old was trying on dresses for a school dance and instructed the girl to say a schoolmate impregnated her.

Prosecutors told Fox News that the girl gave birth to a boy in September 2017 when she was 11-years-old.

Thrash remains in the Grant County Jail.


Watch: US police officer's heroics saves woman from being hit by a truck

Newly released dash-camera video is showing a close call for a police officer in Anna, Texas saving a woman from being hit by a pickup truck.

The woman had been in a minor accident, with her car stopped on the side of the road.

Officer Brandon Blair stopped to help her. 

As they were talking, the driver of a pickup truck lost control on the same curve. 

The officer's dash camera showed him pulling the woman out of the way just in time.

Newly released dash-camera video is showing a close call for a police officer in Texas, who saved a woman from being hit by a truck. Source: Associated Press


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