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Copter Pilot Dies While Fighting Fire; Aircraft Grounded

July 07, 1997|From Times Staff and Wire Reports

A helicopter pilot fighting a blaze in the mountains of the San Bernardino National Forest was killed Sunday when his water-dropping chopper crashed, authorities said.

The Bell 206 helicopter, one of six helicopters and 10 air tankers fighting the blaze near Hemlock, went down about 4:45 p.m., said Bruce Nelson, operations manager for the Federal Aviation Administration. He had no further details.

The National Transportation Safety Board will begin investigating the incident this morning, he said.

The pilot, who was believed to be the only person aboard the craft, was not identified Sunday night. Other aircraft fighting the 2,400-acre fire were grounded in the wake of the accident, officials said. About 400 firefighters continued to battle the flames on the ground.

Authorities with the U.S. Forest Service said they did not have a precise location of the crash, and had no further information about how it happened.

"We do know that the crash site was remote and difficult to access," said Candace Vialpando of the U.S. Forest Service.

The Hemlock fire, which was apparently sparked Saturday by illegal fireworks, was one-third contained by Sunday night, Vialpando said. The Forest Service expected full containment by this morning.

Carey Thomas Meeks, 27, was arrested and booked for investigation of unlawfully starting a fire.

About 50 miles west, firefighters contained a 3,555-acre forest fire that has raged since Tuesday in the San Gabriel Mountains, the U.S. Forest Service said. For a third day, crews set backfires to encircle the blaze and starve it of fuel. The blaze, which began as a resident was using a weed-cutter, destroyed one home and damaged another.

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