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Three killed after firefighting helicopters collide mid-air in California

“The first helicopter was able to land safely nearby,”Cal Fire Southern Region Chief said. “Unfortunately, the second helicopter crashed, and tragically all three members perished.”

Stock photo of helicopter crash
Stock photo of helicopter crash | Shutterstock

August 8, 2023 12:51am

Updated: August 8, 2023 12:51am

Three people were killed after two firefighting helicopters collided with each other while responding to a blaze in Southern California on Sunday afternoon, authorities reported on Monday. 

Firefighters responded to a structure fire near the intersection of Broadway Street and South Ronda Avenue in Cabazon, about 85 miles (137 kilometers) from Los Angeles, at around 6 p.m. 

As the blaze spread, a wildland fire dispatch was dispatched, including six airplanes and helicopters. One helicopter, a Bell 407, was being used for observation and coordination, while a Sikorsky S-64E was dropping water or retardant on the fires.

The two helicopters had a “fiery mid-air collision” at around 7 p.m., causing an additional 4-acre fire (1.6 hectares). 

“That’s not an uncommon dispatch for a wildland fire, to send those resources,” Cal Fire Southern Region Chief David Fulcher said at a news conference early Monday.

“The first helicopter was able to land safely nearby,” Fulcher said. “Unfortunately, the second helicopter crashed, and tragically all three members perished.”

“Although this was a tragic event, we are also thankful today that it wasn’t worse,” Fulcher added. 

The victims were identified as Cal Fire Assistant Chief Josh Bischof, 46, Cal Fire Capt. Tim Rodriguez, 44, and contract pilot Tony Sousa, 55, reported the firefighting agency. 

“This terrible tragedy is a reminder of the dangers our courageous firefighters face daily while working to keep our communities safe. We owe them our deepest respect and gratitude and will always honor their bravery and sacrifices,” California Gov. Gavin Newsom said in a statement.

The National Transportation Safety Board announced that they will be investigating the tragic event to determine its cause. 

“This is an extremely rare event, so it’s extremely important that the investigation is methodical, but currently at this point, it remains under investigation,” said Cal Fire Deputy Director of Communications Nick Shuler.