Nine Feared Dead in Calif. Chopper Crash

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A helicopter crash over a Northern California forest is feared to have killed nine people. The helicopter was carrying 11 firefighters and two crew members when it went down Tuesday night in the Shasta-Trinity National Forest.


Nine people are missing and presumed dead after the crash of a firefighting helicopter last night in Northern California. The helicopter went down in a remote mountainous part of the Shasta-Trinity National Forest.

NPR's Richard Gonzales reports.

RICHARD GONZALES: A federal aviation official says the helicopter crashed under unknown circumstances. The chopper was a Sikorsky S-61 military-style helicopter. It was being used to carry firefighters to battle a blaze near the community of Junction City.

Many of the details of the crash are still unclear, but it is known that the helicopter pilot and three firefighters were injured in the crash and presumably walked up where medical aid was available. Nine others on the helicopter are still missing and presumed dead.

It's been a vicious summer for wildfires and the Shasta-Trinity National Forest, and reaching the wreckage is now challenging says Ryan Sabalow, a reporter with the Record Searchlight in Redding, California.

Mr. RYAN SABALOW (Reporter, Redding Record Searchlight): Trinity County is something like 70 or 80 percent national forest (unintelligible). For the most part, it's just very rural, very hard to get to. And that's been part of the struggles for the firefighters over this - over this last month, is that they're having a tough time getting to the fire and putting them out and - just because it's so remote and steep and thick.

GONZALES: The firefighters were battling a blaze known as the Buckhorn fire, which was part of a series of wildfires sparked last month by a lightning storm. The fire has consumed more than 15,000 acres.

Several of the victims were contract firefighters working for a company called Grayback Forestry, Inc. based in Merlin Oregon. Phone calls to the company were not returned. Officials have not released the names of any of the victims pending notification of their relatives.

Trinity County Sheriff Lorrac Craig says that two of his deputies had reached the crash site but were unable to get to the helicopter because it is still very hot. The sheriff was unable to say how rescuers reached the four who were injured but not the nine others.

A special investigative unit of the National Transportation Safety Board is en route to the crash site.

Richard Gonzales, NPR News.

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