Three people died after two firefighting helicopters collided in the U.S. state of California, causing one to crash into a hillside killing everyone on board, emergency officials said early Monday.
One helicopter was able to land safely nearby, with no injuries reported among the two people on board.
“Unfortunately, the second helicopter crashed, and tragically all three members perished, which included one Cal Fire division chief, one Cal Fire fire captain and one contract client pilot,” Fulcher said.
He expressed condolences to the families of those who died, adding: “This was a tragic loss for the community” and California’s firefighting operations.
Authorities said the blaze began in a building and had grown to about three acres (1.2 hectares) in Cabazon as firefighters responded.
The helicopter that landed safely was a Sikorsky Skycrane, used to carry liquid that is dropped on blazes, although Fulcher said it was not immediately clear whether it was carrying water or a chemical retardant.
The chopper that crashed was a Bell helicopter flying in an observation and coordination capacity.
Both helicopters were owned and operated by a company contracted with Cal Fire, according to Fulcher. Other aircraft dispatched in the operation included two fixed-wing tanker planes and a Cal Fire helicopter, all of which landed without incident.
The National Transportation Safety Board has launched an investigation into the collision.
The fatal incident comes 11 months after a Cal Fire helicopter crash-landed near Banning, just a few miles away, injuring three people.
California firefighters battle thousands of wildfires each year, with summer months particularly susceptible to blazes. An ongoing fire south of the city of Fresno has consumed 5,200 acres and is zero percent contained, Cal Fire reports.