Three dead after firefighting helicopters collide in California

Three people were killed after two helicopters fighting a wildfire in California crashed on Sunday.

The crash occurred after California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CalFire) responded to a fire that sparked in the town of Cabazon, about 17 miles west of Palm Springs.

Local firefighters in Riverside County responded to the fire around 6.00pm on Sunday evening.

The blaze started as a building fire, but quickly expanded to cover about three acres of vegetation, CalFire Southern Region Chief David Fulcher said at a press conference early Monday morning.

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While fighting the blaze, which was named the Broadway Fire, firefighters brought in both fixed-wing and rotary-wing aircraft – a Bell 407 helicopter and a Sikorsky S-64E Skycrane.

The Bell helicopter was an observer, or a ‘coordinator’ aircraft, Fulcher said. The Sikorsky Skycrane was working as a water-dropping helicopter.

‘While engaged in the firefight, the two helicopters collided,’ Fulcher said. ‘The first helicopter was able to land safely nearby, unfortunately the second helicopter crashed.’

All three occupants of the second helicopter died. The victims included a contract pilot, a CalFire division chief, and a a CalFire captain.

The three victims have become the first casualties of the 2023 wildfire season in California. Their identities have not yet been released.

‘The crash caused an additional four-acre fire, which was extinguished,’ Fulcher added.

Fulcher expressed his sympathies for the families of the victims. ‘This was a tragic loss for the community, the fire service community, and CalFire and Riverside County Fire Department,’ he said.

‘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 land safely, without incident, and nobody else was hurt.’

The National Transportation Safety Board will investigate the cause of the crash.

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