Borneo ablaze: forest fires threaten world’s largest remaining population of orangutans

  Crashed pilot fighting B.C. forest fire believed dead

16 August 2009

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B.C., Canada — The RCMP says that a chopper pilot who crashed into a river as he was battling a B.C. forest fire last week has likely died.

Search teams found a helmet belonging to Robert Woodhead in the Fraser River on Sunday, but the 53-year-old’s body is still missing, The Canadian Press reports.

On Friday, Woodhead’s Bell 212 chopper went down over rugged terrain near a river in the province’s interior. The helicopter was also outfitted with a large water bucket designed for fighting fires.

“We have met and spoken to the family,” said RCMP Cpl. Dan Moskaluk. “It is believed that Mr. Woodhead perished in the river.”

Moments after the crash, a fellow pilot spotted Woodhead in the river and attempted to drop his bucket down to help the pilot. However, Woodhead wasn’t able to grab hold.

Woodhead, who was from Stoney Creek, Ont., had been hired to battle the Intlpam fire, which is located about 150 kilometres northeast of Vancouver.

The RCMP suspect that Woodhead died as his body was pulled along by the river’s strong current. Searchers also found parts of the helicopter downstream.

The helicopter was owned by an Alberta-based company called Elbow River Helicopters. Company manager Torrie Chartier declined to comment specifically on the crash.

“It is under investigation by the Transportation Safety Board and the RCMP and they will release the information,” she told CP on Sunday.

The Intlpam blaze has been burning across a 12-square-kilometre patch of land since July 25. The BC Fire Service says the fire was likely ignited by a lightning strike.

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