Evidence indicates that a helicopter that crashed in northern New Mexico after helping to fight wildfires over the weekend descended at a rapid rate, and the plane flipped and fell into pieces after its first impact. vertical ground, the National Transportation Safety Board said Monday.
The agency has completed initial documents on the fatal crash, but it could take weeks for investigators to determine the cause. Authorities are in the process of moving the wreckage from a remote area south of the Las Vegas community to a safe location where it can be examined further.
The helicopter was carrying three people along with the Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office and a county firefighter when it crashed Saturday night while returning from firefighting duty. County officials on Monday called the four heroes heroes.
“We think of the heroes we lost this weekend with a broken and saddened heart,” Police Chief Manuel Gonzales and Sheriff Greg Perez said in a joint statement. “The fact that we will probably grieve forever. respondent.”
Gonzales and Perez both spoke at a news conference Monday afternoon, sharing details about the men and saying their focus now is on supporting the families of the men and the staff who are struggling. their grief.
“We stand before you with heavy hearts. This has been a tragic 48 hours for Bernalillo County, and we’ve all lost,” Perez said. “I’m trying to put words together to sum up what we’re feeling, what we’re going through. It’s impossible.”
Peter Knudson, a spokesman for the NTSB, said there is information about the flight path that investigators will look at to better understand the path the helicopter was taking on its way back to its home base in Albuquerque. He also said there may have been witnesses, so authorities are asking anyone with information to come forward.
“Although afternoon and evening thunderstorms typically surround New Mexico during the monsoon season, there did not appear to be any adverse weather at the time of the crash,” Knudson said.
“But we will look at everything as part of the investigation,” he said.
The weekend proved to be a dead day for air travel. The NTSB has reported several fatal crashes in recent days, including one Sunday in Nevada in which four people were killed when two small planes collided at North Las Vegas Airport. .
In New Mexico, Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham ordered the flags to fly at half a foot until sundown Friday in honor of first responders killed in Saturday’s crash.
Among them was Deputy Secretary Larry Koren, a veteran pilot who worked for the Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office for more than two decades. He’s part of a New Year’s Day mission to rescue employees and a tram operator who got stuck while traveling down the Sandia Peak Aerial Tramway. He is survived by his wife and two sons.
Lieutenant Fred Beers also joined the rescue that winter and was among those killed in Saturday’s crash. Beers, who worked for the sheriff’s office for 13 years, left behind a wife and son.
Also included are Deputy Michael Levison, who has been in the sheriff’s office since 2017 and served in the New Mexico Air National Guard, and rescue specialist Matthew King of the Bernalillo County Fire Department. , who was the husband and father of two children.
Law enforcement officers and firefighters lined up on the highway overpass as the men’s bodies were brought to Albuquerque on Sunday. Many people greet when others place their hands over their hearts. Some also talk about how men are always ready to serve beyond their authority.
“They’re ready to go out there and that takes a very special person to be brave,” Gonzales said Monday, adding that the air support team has never turned down a request for help. .
Crews spent several hours Saturday afternoon making drops and moving equipment to firefighters battling the blaze south of Las Vegas. They left Las Vegas airport around 6:30 p.m. shortly after refueling and less than 45 minutes later they were off radar.
Authorities did not say if there was any radio communications from the helicopter shortly before the plane crashed.
Two New Mexico State Police officers were the first to arrive at the scene and try to provide aid. Authorities did not say if any of the crash victims were conscious when officers arrived.
It’s been an especially harsh start to the fire season, as just a month ago the Bernalillo County crew helped drop water on a wildfire that flared up in a rugged area on the eastern edge of Albuquerque. With scarce resources in the area, city firefighters and first responders are often assigned to help with wildfire efforts.