Fri. Sep 30th, 2022

A helicopter returning to Albuquerque after responding to a wildfire in New Mexico crashed, killing three members of the Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office and a member of the Bernalillo County Fire Department, the authorities said on Sunday.

The helicopter crashed near Las Vegas, N.M., on Saturday around 7:20 p.m. local time, officials said.

The four people on the helicopter were Undersheriff Larry Koren, Lt. Fred Beers, Deputy Michael Levison, and Matthew King, a rescue specialist.

“Our focus remains on providing care and support for the surviving family members as they grapple with the situation,” the sheriff’s office said on Sunday afternoon.

The National Transportation Safety Board and the Federal Aviation Administration will investigate the cause of the crash, Lt. Robert T. Arguelles, a spokesman for the Bernalillo County Fire Department said. The sheriff’s office and the New Mexico State Police responded to the scene.

The medical examiner’s office was helping to recover the bodies and escort them to Albuquerque, the sheriff’s office said.

The helicopter crew members were responding to a fire in East Mesa that started about two days ago and was believed to have been caused by a lightning strike, Lieutenant Arguelles said.

“The helicopter and its crew were assisting with a wildfire in the area, providing bucket drops and other air logistics needed to fire crews on the ground,” the sheriff’s office said.

The East Mesa fire is near the Calf Canyon and Hermits Peak fires, which have covered more than 341,700 acres and are listed as being 93 percent contained.

New Mexico has had an early, record-breaking wildfire season this year because of abnormally dry, warm conditions and strong winds. By June, it was already one of the worst fire years in the state’s history, with still at least another month of risk ahead.

Two U.S. Forest Service-prescribed burns this year in New Mexico — intended to manage wildfires — ravaged hundreds of homes and displaced thousands of people after getting out of control.

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