3 reported dead after firefighting helicopters collide over Cabazon

VIDEO | 02:23
3 reported dead after firefighting helicopters collide over Cabazon

Firefighters were battling a small fire in the Cabazon area when two helicopters collided and one plunged to the ground. The other landed safely.


All three people aboard a firefighting helicopter were killed when it collided with another chopper in midair while the two craft fought a blaze in Riverside County, emergency officials and media reports said Monday.

The second chopper landed safely after the collision Sunday, Cal Fire Southern Region Chief David Fulcher told a news conference early Monday.

Fulcher identified the three dead as a Cal Fire division chief, a Cal Fire captain and the contract pilot of the helicopter, according to the Associated Press. He did not give the victims’ names.


Video from over the Riverside County crash scene showed a burn area and, nearby, what appeared to be a blade from a chopper on a hillside just past an area of charred brush. Other wreckage nearby, atop a road, was barely recognizable as a helicopter under the darkening skies of the remote crash scene early Sunday evening.

It was not clear whether the burn area was from the fire that brought the chopper to the area or the crash.

For hours, officials did not release information on injuries. But late Sunday, a KABC-TV reporter at the scene reported that officials told her at least one person had died.

There was confusion initially over whether one or two craft were involved in the incident. At times, media reports and social media accounts told of a midair collision but were unclear as to what had collided with the one craft first confirmed as having gone down.

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That craft was contracted by Cal Fire on an as-needed basis, according to KCAL-TV. National Transportation Safety Board investigators were reportedly already at the scene.

The crash occurred in the area of Pipeline Road and Apache Trail, just south of the 10 Freeway near the Morongo Casino Resort and Cabazon shopping outlets.


An early alert on the crash was tweeted by the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department.

At 7:20 p.m., “deputies responded to the area of Pipeline Road and Apache Trail in #Cabazon reference an air emergency,” the department tweeted. “1 plane crashed at the location. The circs surrounding the crash are unknown at this time.”

The fire erupted on a vessel near a fueling dock at Alamitos Bay, according to the Long Beach Fire Department. The cause has yet to be determined.

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“What we do know is that we did have — we had fire in the Cabazon area [that] this helicopter was at,” Cordova said.

Cabazon is a unincorporated community in Riverside County, about 90 miles east of downtown L.A.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.