Three crew members were killed after two firefighting helicopters collided in Southern California on Sunday while fighting a wildfire in Riverside County, emergency officials said.
One of the helicopters landed safely.
“Unfortunately, the second helicopter crashed and tragically all three members perished which included one Cal Fire Division chief, one Cal Fire captain and one contract client pilot,” Cal Fire Southern Region Chief David Fulcher said during a news conference early Monday.
Fulcher did not identify the victims.
Cal Fire and Riverside County Fire Department resources were dispatched to a reported structure fire near the intersection of Broadway Street and South Ronda Avenue in the community of Cabazon, Fulcher said. Shortly after the arrival of the first engine company, the fire was reported to have extended into the vegetation and a full wildland fire dispatch was initiated, which included fixed-wing and rotary-wing aircraft.
While battling the blaze, a Bell 407 helicopter operating as a spotter aircraft collided with a water-dropping Sikorsky Skycrane, authorities said. The crash caused an additional 4-acre fire, which was extinguished.
“Although this was a tragic event, we are also thankful today that it wasn’t worse,” Fulcher said. “The individuals in the first helicopter were able to able to land safely without incident and no one else was hurt.”
The helicopter pilot was performing work under contract with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, fire captain and spokesman Richard Cordova said Sunday evening.
Firefighters stood on top of fire engines and saluted as a procession for the victims passed under a U.S. flag suspended between two ladder trucks.
The crash is being investigated by the National Transportation Safety Board.
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Source: NBC Los Angeles