Helicopter pilot helping fight California fire dies in crash


FRESNO, Calif (Nexstar)- A helicopter pilot involved in fighting fires in California died Wednesday when the aircraft crashed near Coalinga, authorities said.

Authorities said Mike Fournier, 52 was the only person abroad the helicopter when it crashed.

Fournier was a husband and the father of two daughters, according to a GoFundMe account set up to help the family.

The helicopter involved in firefighting operations crashed under unknown circumstances 11 miles south of New Coalinga Municipal Airport around 10 a.m., Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Ian Gregor said.

The crash site was in a remote area southwest of the blaze.

The helicopter was confirmed to have belonged to a company contracted to make water drops on the Hills Fire burning near Coalinga, said Cal Fire spokesman Seth Brown.

An employee confirmed the company is Guardian Helicopters, based in Fillmore. They did not want to comment but their website lists services including firefighting, and shows pictures of the same model helicopter identified in the crash, a Bell UH-1H.

Brown said it is common for agencies to contract equipment and personnel to fight wildfires.

“We had on the incident several privately contracted helicopters assisting us with water drops the past couple days,” he said.

The crash sparked another fire, which eventually merged with the Hills Fire, making it tough for Fresno County Sheriff’s Office search and rescue crews to access. Rugged terrain, triple-digit temperatures and wind also added to the challenge.

Brown said a tragedy like this is uncommon in wildland fire fighting.

“Actual injuries to firefighters and contractors are rare when you think of how many people are out here how many moving parts there are. Any type of aircraft crash is extremely rare,” he said.

Search and Rescue members collected Fournier’s body at around 8:30 p.m. and said it took a total of 6 1/2 hours to get in and out of the scene, according to the Fresno County Sheriff’s Office. They also said they covered him with an American flag.

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