Saturday, June 11, 2011

Omega Air Crash at Mugu Air Force Base

Minor injuries reported in plane crash at Point Mugu
By John Scheibe
Updated Thursday, May 19, 2011
A Boeing 707 burns after crashing during takeoff at Naval Base Ventura County Point Mugu, Wednesday afternoon. Three people on board escaped with minor injuries, authorities said.

Photo by Stephen Osman

A military contractor's Boeing 707 military tanker carrying 150,000 pounds of fuel crashed and burned on takeoff at the Naval Base Ventura County Point Mugu late Wednesday afternoon, sending a thick plume of smoke into the sky visible from miles away.

The three civilian crew members on board, including the pilot and co-pilot, suffered minor injuries in the 5:25 p.m. crash, according to base officials. The crew members were taken to a local hospital, where they were treated for their injuries, according to the Ventura County Fire Department.

The plume of smoke stretched southward toward Malibu and Santa Monica. A helicopter dumped several loads of water on the plane as the flames and black smoke filled the air. The fire was knocked down at 9:09 p.m., according to the base.

Base spokeswoman Teri Reid said the tanker is used for fleet operations support and transporting fuel.

County firefighters were called to the base about 5:30 p.m. to assist base crews in putting out the flames. The two agencies have a mutual aid agreement, said Bill Nash, a spokesman for the county fire department. The county sheriff's department also provided a fire helicopter to the base to help fight the blaze.

FAA records show Omega Air as the plane's owner.

The plane went off the south end of the runway, authorities said. The plane came to a rest within a few hundred feet of the Pacific Ocean, though it was not clear whether any fuel had gone into the ocean.

Omega is a civilian company under contract by the Navy to provide fleet operations support on Point Mugu's sea test range, base officials said.

The National Air Transportation Board was investigating the cause of the crash on Wednesday, base officials said.

The Federal Aviation Administration also was investigating the crash, since the plane was a civilian one, said Ian Gregor, a spokesman for the FAA. A local FAA investigator was on the scene on Wednesday night, Gregor said, and another FAA investigator from Washington, D.C., is scheduled to serve as the agency's lead investigator today.

A person working at the Navy Exchange on base said he noticed something might be amiss when he saw customers taking pictures of something with their phones. When he went outside about 5:50 p.m., he saw the smoke and could smell fuel burning.

The smoke drew curiosity seekers to Missile Park, located just outside Mugu's northern perimeter. The plume of smoke was still clearly visible at 8 p.m., hours after the crash.

Officials at Omega could not be reached for comment. But according to its website, the 7-year-old company has corporate offices in Virginia and provides refueling services to the U.S. armed forces and its allies. Key management at the company include former naval aviators, and many crew members and other employees have a background with the Air Force, the company's website says.

The 707-321B aircraft that crashed was manufactured in 1969 by Boeing, according to an FAA registry.

Omega's fleet includes two 707 tankers and a DC-10, each capable of flying up to 1,200-plus hours each year, according to the company's website. Omega can carry from 156,000 to 160,000 pounds of fuel, depending on type and temperature, the website says.

The two 707s fly the majority of the company's missions. Seven Q Seven, a subsidiary of Omega Air, is responsible for maintaining the planes, the website says. Planes are based out of Seven Q Seven's facility at the San Antonio International Airport.

It's not known where the tanker was headed at the time of the crash.

According to Boeing's website, the 707 series was based on a prototype that ushered America into the jet age when it made its maiden flight on July 15, 1954.

"Much larger, faster and smoother than the propeller airplanes it was replacing, it quickly changed the face of international travel," the Boeing website states.

After Pan Am inaugurated trans-Atlantic 707 jet service between New York and Paris, jetliners rapidly entered service throughout the world, the website states.

Staff writer Cheri Carlson and The Associated Press contributed to this article