2 Killed in Helicopter Crash While Fighting Idaho Wildfire


Two pilots died on Thursday after a helicopter crashed in Idaho while helping to fight a wildfire, the authorities said. It was the second such fatal crash involving helicopters responding to wildfires in less than a week.

The two people on board, Thomas Hayes, 41, of Post Falls, Idaho, and Jared Bird, 36, of Anchorage, Alaska, were decorated military veterans and experienced pilots who worked for ROTAK Helicopter Services, said Traci Zimmerlee, a district ranger with the Lowman Ranger District in Lowman, Idaho.

“Our firefighting community is close, so this hits us hard,” she said.

It was the latest in a string of fatalities among helicopters providing wildfire-response assistance: On Saturday, four men had been killed while returning to Albuquerque in a helicopter after responding to a wildfire in New Mexico. And last month, the pilot of a helicopter working at a wildfire in Alaska was killed in a crash, The Anchorage Daily News reported.

The pilots in Idaho were operating a CH-47D Chinook to help support firefighters who had been battling the Moose fire, which has burned more than 23,000 acres since Sunday. The Chinook crashed near Salmon, Idaho, ROTAK said. It was one of about 10 helicopters assigned to the fire, Ranger Zimmerlee said.

It is not yet clear what led to the crash, the authorities said, but the National Transportation Safety Board and the Federal Aviation Administration will investigate.

ROTAK Helicopter Services, which was working as a government contractor, said it had “voluntarily implemented a safety stand down” and was suspending operations with its other CH-47D helicopters until further notice. Ely Woods, the company’s general manager, said officials were devastated by the deaths.

“Tommy and Jared represented the absolute best our country has to offer,” Mr. Woods said. “Both were decorated veterans, hard workers and outstanding pilots. Our hearts go out to their families, friends and loved ones.”

On Friday, Gov. Brad Little of Idaho ordered that U.S. and state flags be flown at half-staff in honor of the pilots until their memorial services are held.

“Our brave firefighters face extremely challenging conditions head on to protect lives, property, and the land,” he said in a statement. “Idahoans are praying for the loved ones and colleagues of these firefighters as we grieve this tremendous loss.”

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