Chopper crashes in remote California forest; 4 killed
Three California Department of Fish and Game biologists and a pilot were killed Tuesday afternoon when their helicopter crashed in a craggy stretch of the Sierra National Forest where they were surveying wildlife.world Updated: Jan 06, 2010 08:51 IST
Three California Department of Fish and Game biologists and a pilot were killed Tuesday afternoon when their helicopter crashed in a craggy stretch of the Sierra National Forest where they were surveying wildlife.
The crash happened in a narrow canyon near Redinger Lake after the Bell 206 helicopter struck a power line and sparked a blaze that scattered debris throughout a quarter-mile (400 meters) of brush, Madera County officials said.
Killed in the accident were two longtime state scientists, 48-year-old Clu Cotter and 40-year-old Kevin O'Connor, as well as a scientists' aide, 31-year-old Tom Stolberg, all of Fresno. Pilot Dennis Donovan also died, but his hometown and age were not released.
The men were conducting a routine aerial mission to study deer herds feeding in the steep, wooded region near the border of Fresno and Madera counties.
The fire made the site inaccessible for several hours, but crews put out the blaze and had located the four men's bodies by late afternon, sheriff's spokeswoman Erica Stuart said. Harry Morse, a Fish and Game spokesman, said the agency contracted the helicopter from Landells Aviation of Desert Hot Springs.
A woman who answered the phone at Landells confirmed one of its helicopters was involved in the crash but could not provide other details and would not give her name.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and members of the California Association of Professional Scientists offered their condolences and hailed the scientists' service.
Several people familiar with their missions called the surveys risky work that often involved flying close to the ground in rugged terrain to study deer population and migration patterns. The department temporarily grounded all helicopter surveys and captures Tuesday afternoon, and the National Transportation Safety Board was expected to take over the investigation of the crash.