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Firefighting helicopter crashes in Calif., killing pilot and sparking new wildfire

The Bell UH-1 helicopter was on a water-dropping mission for the 1,500-acre Hills Fire in Fresno County; SAR team mobilized


Fresno County SAR teams deployed for recovery efforts following the crash.

Photo/ABC30 Action News

Los Angeles Times

LOS ANGELES — A firefighting helicopter crashed in Fresno County on Wednesday, killing the pilot and briefly sparking another brush fire to join the dozens burning across the state.

The Bell UH-1 helicopter was on a water-dropping mission for the 1,500-acre Hills fire when it crashed about nine miles south of Coalinga about 10 a.m., the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection and the Federal Aviation Administration said. The helicopter was privately owned and contracted with the state to help fight fires.

“There was one person on board, they did not survive,” Cal Fire spokesman Daniel Berlant said.

The crash sparked a brush fire that has grown to about 50 acres and is spreading toward the Hills fire, officials said.

Since the weekend, it has been all hands on deck across the state after a vast weather system inundated Northern California’s coastal mountains with lightning strikes, sparking hundreds of fires that have grown out of control with the warming weather.

With only a limited amount of aircraft in its fleet, Cal Fire routinely reaches out to private companies to aid in its effort. It was not immediately clear which company owns the helicopter that crashed.

The incident underlines how dangerous the work can be, Berlant said. American private pilots died in a firefighting crash in Australia in January, and a pilot on a supply run for crews in Arizona died in a crash in July.

“We take extreme measures to ensure the safety of our firefighters and of course our contractors, so when an accident occurs, it just reminds us of just how dangerous this mission is,” he said.

The pilot has not yet been identified.

The National Transportation Safety Board will investigate the crash.


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