Alberni’s Mars bomber returns from Mexico

A film crew from Exploration Production Inc.

A film crew from Exploration Production Inc.

The Hawaii Mars waterbomber will return to the Alberni Valley on Friday after spending 20 days fighting fires in Mexico.

Their mission—the first time the Port Alberni-based company has worked with Mexican authorities—has been a success, Coulson Flying Tankers chief operating officer Jim Messer said.

“She performed admirably,” Messer said of the aircraft. “It’s been a really good run.”

The mobile team started operations from Lake Amistad reservoir, near Del Rio, Texas, on April 28. Since then, they’ve been flying seven hours every day.

“It’s probably the busiest contract we’ve had,” Messer said. “It went well. They were pretty impressed with how we attack fires,” he said.

Some of the challenges included high temperatures and high winds, coupled with uneven terrain. A lot of the fires had occurred between 4,000 and 6,000 feet above sea level, which affects operation of the aircraft.

The new contract with Mexico went well on a couple of fronts, he added. First off it was a great start to their season from a commercial standpoint. “They flew us hard and it made a big difference.”

It has also put them in the Mexican authorities’ focus, and Coulson has been assured they will be called upon again if their firefighting services are needed.

Messer said the crew is aware of the massive fire in northern Alberta that has destroyed one-third of the town of Slave Lake.

“I’ve been talking to Alberta Forestry,” he said. “They are aware of our situation (in Mexico). We made them aware the Mars could be up there in a couple of days (both rotor and fixed wing aircraft).”

So far they have not been tasked to go to Slave Lake. If they do, it will likely be under the auspices of the B.C. government.

The waterbomber crew will be home for a week of minor maintenance on the aircraft before it goes operational again on June 1, this time for a 90-day contract with the provincial government.

Meanwhile, the Martin Mars is gaining celebrity status in the United States, and has attracted the attention of the Discovery Channel. Exploration Production Inc. spent five or six days filming the Mars crew while they were in Mexico as part of an episode of Mighty Planes, a new spinoff to the channel’s popular Mighty Ships program.

The film team followed the Coulson air and maintenance crews around for five or six days, capturing everyday life on camera. “Everyone just dealt with it in their own way,” Messer said. “It didn’t impact the (firefighting) work that they did.”

The Discovery Channel film crew will be up in Port Alberni to wrap up filming at the end of May.

The Martin Mars episode is tentatively scheduled to air in Spring 2012, Messer said.

editor@albernivalleynews.com