“Too late” was how most officials described the arrival on Sunday of the world’s
largest fire-fighting aircraft to help put out the Carmel forest
Owned by McMinnville, Oregon-based Evergreen International
Aviation, the supertanker is a modified 747-200, making it look on the outside
like any other jumbo cargo plane.
On Sunday, The Jerusalem Post
a rare and exclusive tour of the plane, revealing its eight massive water tanks
that provide it with the ability to carry about 94,000 liters of water and fire
retardant material, almost 20 times more than an average fire truck.
first sortie over the fire was at 11 a.m. and it made a second flyover around
Two Israel Air Force pilots, including Nevatim Air Base
commander Brig.-Gen. Eden Atias, joined the US crew for the flight.
plane is crucial in our efforts to extinguish the fire,” Atias told the Post
after the first sortie. “You can certainly see that the areas [in the Carmel]
are full of smoke, and with cautious optimism, that there are fewer
Using its uniquely designed pressurized system, the supertanker
delivers its contents from altitudes of about 300 feet and at speeds of
approximately 260 kph down a 5- km. path the width of a football
“This aircraft was designed for the type of mega fires like the
one here,” said Steven Daniels, an Evergreen official who accompanied the plane
on its maiden voyage to Israel. The US-based plane has been to only one other
country – Spain – in its four years of operations.
Daniels added that
based on the aircraft’s previous record combatting massive forest fires, it
would have been capable of extinguishing the Carmel inferno earlier had it
arrived in time.
“Based on previous experience we could have stopped it,”
The plane was parked on Sunday in a corner of Ben- Gurion
Airport outside Terminal 1 and was the source of great fanfare for employees and
passengers who were being transported by bus to planes waiting to take them to
Eilat. Senior government officials and IDF officers, including the new deputy
chief of General Staff, Maj.- Gen. Yair Naveh, came to see the
While the aircraft looks like a regular Boeing 747 from the
outside, on the inside – instead of rows of passenger seats – are massive steel
tanks and pipes. The plane is run by a fairly small crew of just two pilots and
one flight engineer.
Around the green-and-red plane with a large American
flag taped to its side were trucks filling it with water and fire retardant
The government contacted Evergreen late on Friday and within
12 hours the aircraft was en route to Israel.
“The plane was in Arizona
and the pilot and rest of the crew were scattered,” Daniel said. “But we were
excited to get the mission and to be able to help out Israel.”
reports have indicated that the government learned of the plane’s existence only
from a random search on the Internet. One Israeli Fire and Rescue Service source
said, however, that the plane was well known to firefighters, although they
never imagined the government would pay the steep fee to bring it here.
According to some reports, it costs $100,000-$200,000 per hour of
The aircraft’s captain, Cliff Hale, said it was an honor to be
in Israel. He has flown the plane in Alaska, southern California and
“What makes our plane different is that its pressurized systems
allow it to fly higher and faster,” he said. “This way we can get to scenes of
By Sunday afternoon, even though it was clear that the fire
was mostly out, members of the plane’s crew said they intended to stay as long
as they were asked.
“We are an insurance policy if the fire flares up
again,” one of the crewmen said.