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3 dead after helicopters fighting fires in California collide midair

CalFire Southern Region Chief David Fulcher told reporters late Sunday that three people died following a midair collision of two helicopters. Screen capture courtesy of CalFire/Riverside County Fire Department/Twitter
CalFire Southern Region Chief David Fulcher told reporters late Sunday that three people died following a midair collision of two helicopters. Screen capture courtesy of CalFire/Riverside County Fire Department/Twitter

Aug. 7 (UPI) -- Two helicopters fighting wildfires in Southern California collided Sunday evening, causing one to crash, killing all three of its occupants, authorities said.

In a late Sunday press conference, CalFire Southern Region Chief David Fulcher announced the incident, saying it happened in the area of Cabazon and was being investigated by the National Transportation Safety Board.

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He said the two aircraft collided midair, but only one was able to land safely.

"Unfortunately, the second helicopter crashed, and tragically all three members perished," he said, identifying the fatalities as a CalFire division chief, a CalFire captain and a contracted pilot.

Two of the three families have been contacted by CalFire and work was underway to reach the third, he said.

"Although this was a tragic event, we are also thankful today that it wasn't worse," he said.

"The individuals in the first helicopter were able to land safely, without incident and no one else was hurt. We think about this and how it affects the families. They have lost, we have lost, three great individuals, three fathers, three husbands, three sons."

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He said the crash happened as six helicopters were responding at around 6 p.m. to a structure fire that had spread to vegetation in the area.

He identified the crashed aircraft as a Bell helicopter that was deployed for observation while the second helicopter, a Sikorsky Skycrane, was deployed to drop either water of fire retardant on the flames.

Two people, including a contracted pilot, were aboard the Sikorsky aircraft and were uninjured.

The crash also ignited a second, 3-acre fire, which was put out, Fulcher said.

"I would like to express our deepest sympathies and sorrow to the families and coworkers and the personnel," he said. "This was a tragic loss for the community, the fire service community and CalFire and Riverside County Fire Department."

According to the CalFire website, the fatalities appear to be the first of the fire season, which has already seen nearly 3,900 fires accounting for nearly 100,000 acres burned.

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