Report posted on tanker crash in Reno

RENO -- A worker at an air tanker base told federal investigators "everything appeared normal" moments before a firefighting plane took off from an airport north of Reno and crashed, killing three crew members.

The employee at the tanker base at Reno-Stead Airport saw the plane taxi to the runway and said everything looked normal before the fatal crash Sept. 1, according to a preliminary report posted Monday by the National Transportation Safety Board on its Web site.

"The witness reported watching the airplane take off and at an elevation estimated to be between 100 to 300 feet above the ground, he observed the left jet engine emitting flames, followed by the left wing being engulfed in flames," the report said.

The witness said that about two seconds later the airplane's left wing dipped and the tanker crashed and burst into flames, the report said.

Killed were pilot Calvin Gene Wahlstrom, 61, of Huntsville, Utah; co-pilot Greg "Gonzo" Gonsioroski, 41, of Baker, Mont., and mechanic Zachary Jake VanderGriend, 25, of Missoula, Mont.

NTSB investigators have said it could take months to determine the cause the crash.

"The cause of the fire, that is the question. And that might not be forthcoming for some time," Tom Little, lead investigator for the National Transportation Safety Board, said last week.