Three people lost their lives on Sunday night when two firefighting helicopters collided mid-air while attempting to combat a brush fire in Riverside County, California. The tragic incident occurred at approximately 7:20 p.m. local time while crews were diligently working to extinguish a blaze that had spread across 20 acres of Native American land near Cabazon. The Riverside County Sheriff’s Office promptly reported the incident on social media.
The collision took place in the vicinity of Pipeline Road and Apache Trail, resulting in the immediate deaths of the pilot and two crew members on board the first helicopter, as it crashed into a hillside. Meanwhile, the second helicopter involved in the incident managed a hard landing, but fortunately, no serious injuries were reported among its occupants, according to KABC.
The helicopter that crashed was a contracted aircraft serving the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. The three individuals who tragically lost their lives were identified as a contract pilot, a department division chief, and a department captain, all of whom were integral members of the firefighting community.
David Fulcher, the southern region chief of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, expressed his deepest sympathies and sorrow to the families and colleagues of the deceased personnel. He acknowledged that this devastating event was a tremendous loss for both the fire service community and the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, as well as the Riverside County Fire Department.
“I would like to express our deepest sympathies and sorrow to the family and coworkers of the personnel,” California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection southern region chief David Fulcher said. “This was a tragic loss for the fire service community and Cal Fire and Riverside County Fire Department.”
An eyewitness who observed the helicopters just before the collision recounted the tragic incident to FOX 11 LA. In response to the severity of the crash, the Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board have launched a comprehensive investigation to determine the cause and circumstances surrounding the collision.