Loss of Local Firefighters
CABAZON (CNS) – President Joe Biden offered condolences today to those
impacted by the deaths of two firefighters and a pilot killed in a midair
collision between two Cal Fire helicopters over Cabazon.
“Every day, firefighters run toward danger, while everyone else runs
the other way, because being a firefighter is not what they do — it’s who they
are,” according to statement by Biden released by the White House. “This
tragedy is yet another example of their incredible bravery. As wildfires have
intensified in recent years, more and more firefighters have put themselves in
harm’s way to defend our families and communities from out-of-control fires.
“… We owe it to our firefighters and their families to do
everything we can to prevent these dangerous fires in the first place. Three
families of three brave Americans have an empty seat around the dinner table
tonight, and our hearts go out to them.”
Cal Fire Assistant Chief Josh Bischof, 46, of Menifee, Cal Fire Capt.
Timothy Rodriguez Jr., 44, and contract pilot Tony Sousa, 55, of Red Bluff,
were fatally injured in the collision and fire just before 7 p.m. Sunday in the
area of Pipeline Road and Apache Trail.
The victims were aboard a Bell 407 that collided with a Sikorsky S-64E
Skycrane making water drops over the “Broadway Fire,” which was held to
20 acres on a barren hillside. The two occupants of the Sikorsky were not hurt
and landed without incident.
National Transportation Safety Board spokesman Eleazar Nepomuceno held
a news briefing in Cabazon Monday, saying a team consisting of two NTSB
investigators, a Federal Aviation Administration representative and personnel
from the helicopter manufacturers, Bell and Sikorsky, were gathering
preliminary information on the midair collision.
“They were on a convergence flight, and they impacted,” Nepomuceno
said of the choppers. “Our plan is to document the wreckage before it is
relocated to (a secure hangar) in Arizona.”
He said a “drone team,” utilizing remotely piloted unmanned aerial
vehicles would be surveying the crash site Tuesday.
Nepomuceno emphasized the immediate objective is to procure
“perishable” evidence that will vanish once the wreckage is removed and the
site is cleaned up.
Federal investigators are encouraging anyone who might have
information to contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Bell helicopter crew was coordinating air operations over the
fire. The chopper went down on a hillside, causing a four-acre blaze that was
quickly knocked down, according to Cal Fire Southern Region Chief Dave Fulcher.
Nepomuceno said there was “minor damage” to the Skycrane, which was
dispatched to the area two months ago for the duration of Southern California
It was not immediately clear why the choppers were not positioned at
safer distances or altitudes. Cabazon lies within the San Gorgonio Pass, with
arching terrain both north and south, limiting maneuverability.
The two helicopters were among a half-dozen aircraft sent to the
blaze, Fulcher said.
Gov. Gavin Newsom extended “heartfelt sympathies” Monday, saying the
“terrible tragedy is a reminder of the dangers our courageous firefighters
face daily while working to keep our communities safe.”
“It is a horrible tragedy when those who serve the community do not
return home to their families,” Supervisor Manuel Perez, whose Fourth District
encompasses Cabazon, said. “I pray for their families and the rest of the
Riverside County Fire Department.”
Agencies throughout the region expressed sorrow. Murrieta Fire &
Rescue posted to social media, sending “deepest condolences” to the family,
friends and colleagues of the fallen crew.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with you,” the agency said.
From the Palm Springs Fire Department: “Our heartfelt condolences for
the line-of-duty deaths of two Cal Fire firefighters and a contract pilot.
This tragedy has left us deeply shaken and mourning the loss of our brave
The Orange County Fire Authority posted a message offering
condolences. “Our hearts are with our Cal Fire family and all the loved ones,
friends and colleagues impacted by this tragic loss,” the agency said.
Funeral arrangements for the men were pending.
The NTSB’s preliminary report on the accident is expected to be
published before the end of the month, while the final report could take up to
two years to complete.
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