BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Both pilots of a firefighting helicopter that crashed in Idaho have died, the U.S. Forest Service said Friday.
Mary Cernicek of the Salmon-Challis National Forest said Thomas Hayes, 41, of Post Falls, Idaho, and Jared Bird, 36, of Anchorage, Alaska, died of injuries they sustained when their ch -47D Series “Chinook” crashed into the Salmon River around 3:30 p.m. Thursday.
The pilots were employees of ROTAK Helicopter Services based in Anchorage, who were contracted to help fight the Moose Fire about 21 miles (34 kilometers) north of Salmon.
Both pilots were “very experienced” and military veterans, Cernicek said. Emergency crews responding to the accident were able to extract the men and transport them to medical facilities, but they did not survive, she said.
On its website, ROTAK said it confirmed the crash “with a heavy heart” and asked for prayers and privacy on behalf of the families involved.
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“ROTAK Helicopter Services is working closely with all appropriate agencies and will issue a full statement as information becomes available,” the company wrote.
The Idaho crash comes less than a week after four first responders were killed in another helicopter crash in New Mexico. Authorities in New Mexico said the helicopter crew had completed a firefighting mission and were returning home to Albuquerque when the helicopter fell at high speed, hitting the ground before tipping over. One of the four people killed in this accident managed to call 911 before succumbing to his injuries.
Idaho Governor Brad Little ordered flags flown at half-mast in honor of Hayes and Bird. Little said the deaths were a tragedy that would be deeply felt by families and the wildland firefighter community.
“Our brave firefighters face extremely difficult conditions to protect lives, property and the earth,” Little said in a press release. “The people of Idaho are praying for the loved ones and co-workers of these firefighters as we mourn this tremendous loss.”
Nearly 700 firefighters battled the Moose Fire in Idaho. The blaze started on Sunday, and the National Interagency Fire Center said in an incident report on Friday that nine helicopters were being used to support firefighting resources on the ground with water bucket drops.
The blaze was burning for about 37 square miles (96 square kilometers) on Friday and was threatening several structures, and fire officials said the blaze is expected to grow as hot, dry conditions continue in the area. A ‘red flag’ warning was issued in the area as wind gusts were expected to reach up to 35mph (56kph).
The helicopter wreckage was still in the Salmon River and National Transportation Safety Board investigators were en route to the scene, Cernicek said. This stretch of the river is popular with rafters and recreational enthusiasts, and authorities have closed the area to recreational day trips. It remains open to people taking multi-day river trips, Cernicek said.
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