Three people were killed while fighting a California wildfire after two helicopters collided Sunday afternoon, according to state authorities.
First responders were initially responding to a structure fire in Cabazon, Calif., when the blaze spread to nearby vegetation. Cal Fire, the state department that specializes in extinguishing wildfires, then dispatched six aircraft to the scene.
A Sikorsky S-64E helicopter, carrying two people, and a Bell 407 helicopter, carrying three people, collided at 6:03 p.m. PDT. The Sikorsky helicopter was able to make a safe landing and neither of the two people aboard were hurt, while the pilot and both passengers aboard the Bell were killed, Cal Fire Southern Region Chief David Fulcher said.
The three fatalities were Cal Fire Assistant Chief Josh Bischof, Cal Fire Fire Captain Tim Rodriguez and contract pilot Tony Sousa.
"I would like to express our deepest sympathy and sorrow to the family and coworkers of the personnel," Fulcher said. "This was a tragic loss for the...fire service community and Cal Fire and the Riverside County Fire Department."
"We have lost three great individuals. Three fathers, three husbands, three friends, three sons..." he added.
The Bell helicopter was the coordinating helicopter, while the Sikorsky was a water-dropping helicopter. Both aircraft were under contract with Cal Fire.
The crash caused an additional four-acre fire, which was put out, Fulcher said.
The National Transportation Safety Board said investigators are expected to arrive on the scene Monday afternoon. NTSB investigators will inspect the damaged aircraft and request radar data, weather information, maintenance records and the pilot's medical records, the agency said.
"Although this was a tragic event, we are also thankful today that it wasn't worse," Fulcher said.