Pilot Accidentally Covers Sydney Suburb In Bright Pink Flame Retardant
The firefighting pilot who dumped a giant load of bright pink flame retardant on a northern Sydney suburb has revealed the manoeuvre was actually a slight "drop button" miscalculation.
Todd Davis, a 20-year Hercules-flying veteran from the US state of Wyoming was at the controls of the plane at 4.30pm on Tuesday, when he was tasked to help protect homes coming under threat at South Turramurra.
Most of the sticky pink retardant landed on the fire and the bush, but the tail-end painted roads, homes and cars.
"We don’t usually plan that", Davis told 10 News First.
"Fire retardant doesn’t do a whole lot of good for the house as far as protecting it goes."
"Basically, the last little portion that hung up in the air just carried itself over and drifted on top of the houses.
"I wish we dropped a little bit earlier."
Social media lit up with many South Turramurra residents posting photos of their bright pink vehicles, homes and driveways.
None of the residents spoken to by 10 News First had any concerns about the aerial dump.
Davis said he was "slightly" amused by all the attention.
"But at the same time I’d prefer that we don’t have it, but it’s good that they’re happy with it", he said.
The pilots of air tankers are usually guided to their targets and given a radio-call to drop by a second smaller aircraft known as a "bird-dog" plane.
But Davis explained that on Tuesday, his aircraft was the first to arrive in the sky above South Turramurra, and there was no time to wait for backup.
"We could definitely see kind of the urgency of the fire."
"As we were turning over the top of the fire to evaluate it, you could definitely see the flames start to pick up quite a bit and start torching the tops of the trees and that’s when we made our drop."
The retardant is made by a company called Phos-Chek and is a mixture of wetting agents, foaming chemicals, ammonium phosphate fertiliser.
It also contains a corrosion inhibitor to stop the aircraft rusting.
A red pigment made of iron oxide is added, so fire crews can easily spot where it's been dropped.
It's imported from the US as a powder, then mixed with water and pumped into the firefighting aircraft, which can each hold a little more than 15,000 litres.
"It's not toxic at all," explained Adam Atkinson, who was managing aerial operations for the Rural Fire Service at Richmond RAAF Base.
"It's a product that's based on phosphorous. It becomes a fertiliser."
"It can even be good for the garden."