USA — Nine people are missing and feared dead in the crash of a helicopter that was carrying firefighters over a Northern California forest, officials said Wednesday.
The helicopter was carrying 11 firefighters and two crew members when it went down Tuesday night in the Shasta-Trinity National Forest, according to the Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board.
Four people were taken to hospitals with severe burns.
Two of the survivors were in critical condition at the University of California Medical Center in Sacramento, Forest Service spokesman Mike Odle said Wednesday, according to CBS station KPIX. The other two survivors were in serious condition at Mercy Medical Center in Redding, he said.
The Sikorsky S-61 chopper was destroyed by fire after crashing “under unknown circumstances” in a remote mountain location, said FAA spokesman Ian Gregor. FAA and NTSB investigators were headed to the scene, about 215 miles northwest of Sacramento.
The nine were presumably killed in the fire that destroyed the helicopter, Gregor said.
The firefighters had been working at the north end of a more than 27-square-mile fire burning in the Shasta-Trinity forest, part of a larger complex of blazes that total 135 square miles. The complex of fires in that forest were about 87 percent contained, according to KPIX.
The helicopter was owned and operated by Carson Helicopters Inc., whose firefighting operations are based in Grants Pass, Ore. All 12 of the company’s helicopters are being used for firefighting in Oregon and California, said Bob Madden, Carson’s director of corporate affairs.
The Sikorsky S-61 is the only wildland firefighting helicopter in the nation equipped to simultaneously carry both water and crew. It can carry up to 18 firefighters and drop up to 1,000 gallons of water via a suspended bucket.
The helicopter’s two co-pilots were Carson employees, Madden said; one was hospitalized and the other was among the missing.
Before Tuesday’s crash, three firefighters had been killed while on duty in California this year, including one firefighter also assigned to battle the Shasta-Trinity blazes who was killed last month by a falling tree.
On July 2, a volunteer firefighter in Mendocino County died of a heart attack on the fire line. Another firefighter was killed July 26 in when he was burned while scouting a fire.