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Matthew Burchett Killed In Accident Involving Falling Tree Knocked Over By Fire Retardant Dropped By Airplane Near Ukiah

Sep 21, 2018

Draper City, Utah, Fire Department Battalion Chief Matthew Burchett Died In Accident After Low Flying Boeing Airplane Dropped Fire Retardant Which Knocked Over Tree

 UKIAH, CALIFORNIA (September 20, 2018) – A 42-year-old Fire Department Battalion Chief from Utah identified as Matthew Burchett tragically died after a large tree fell on him. It was knocked down by a fire retardant drop from a Boeing 747 air tanker.

Fire Department Battalion Chief Matthew Burchett was in California battling the Mendocino County fires near Ukiah. The fire has become the largest in the states history.

A preliminary report indicates that the low flying airplane dropped its load of fire retardant which hit and knocked over an 87-foot-tall Douglas fir.

The force of the falling tree killed Matthew Burchett. A total of three other firefighters, a captain and an engineer were also injured by the drop according to the report.

A “green sheet” report states that the airplane involved in the accident was being guided by a small lead plane. The pilot of that plane failed to recognize that there was a hill with the firefighters before the drop.

Moreover, the pilot of the Boeing 747 unknowingly released his load of fire retardent when he was only 100 feet above the ground.

A full investigation is underway at this time.

Aviation Accidents and Safety Guidelines

There has been a general downward trend in the number of aviation accidents and fatalities every year. In 2001 there were 184 fatal airplane accidents in the U.S. But in 2016 that number dropped to 108 fatal accidents. This has been due in large part to improved safety measures in airplanes, federal regulations and better pilot training. Some of the most common causes of aviation accidents within the past 20 years include:

  • Loss of pilot control

  • Controlled flight into terrain/obstacles

  • Fuel shortages

  • Component failure on the plane

  • Midair Collisions

  • Low-Altitude operations

Pilot error remains one of the leading causes of accidents. Pilots are supposed to scan and avoid obstacles including pedestrians, trucks and other aircraft. Inexperience is often one of the leading culprits of accidents. To help reduce accidents pilots should be thoroughly trained with every function of their airplane. Thankfully, there are simulators where pilots can practice extensively to get familiar with the controls of their plane. When the pilot of an airplane is negligent and causes an accident they may face civil liability.  

Liability In Airplane Accidents

Some reports have estimated that pilot error accounts for around 50% of all accidents. Airlines and pilots can generally be held liable for accidents under common law concepts of negligence. A pilot or airline was negligent in an accident when they fail to exercise reasonable care in order to prevent injuries or death. Most aviation accidents occur either during takeoff or landing. In many situations pilots  or control towers fail to scan for active dangers and may run into things or overshoot the takeoff or landing. By contrast, most accidents that occur in the air typically involve some sort of malfunction with the airplane or its components. When a pilot unknowingly hits a control button that then causes an accident there’s a good chance they could be held liable for that mistake. Victims may have the ability to file claims against the employer of the pilot in order to recover damages for lost wages, medical bills and pain and suffering.

Getting Help After An Aviation Accident

We at West Coast Trial Lawyers extend our deepest sympathies to the family of Fire Department Battalion Chief Matthew Burchett. What happened is absolutely tragic and unacceptable. It’s reckless for pilots to drop their loads so close to the ground without examining if anyone is below. There needs to be a thorough investigation into what happened for the sake of the victim’s family and all of those that were injured.

If you’ve been injured due to the negligence of a pilot  you may have legal recourse. The aviation accident attorneys at West Coast Trial Lawyers are here for you. We have a phenomenal team of aviation accident attorneys and staff that will work hard to make sure you are well taken care of after an accident. Whether you just have questions about your rights or are seeking legal counsel for your situation we are here to help you (888) 888-9285. Our personal injury lawyers are ready to help.


  1. Sarah Ravani. Report: Giant tree smacked down by retardant killed firefighter near Ukiah. September 14, 2018.

  2. FindLaw Staff. Airplane Crash Liability Overview. 2018

  3. Les Dorr. Fact Sheet – General Aviation Safety. 2018

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