The wildfire season is currently in full swing in California, with over 112,000 acres scorched in the ongoing year. Brave firefighters consistently risk their lives to combat these blazes. Tragically, a fatal air incident involving helicopters engaged in responding to one of the fires has resulted in multiple casualties.
At approximately 7:20 p.m. on August 6, firefighting teams were actively engaged in quelling a brush fire situated on Native American territory in Riverside. Tragically, a collision occurred between two firefighting helicopters, namely a Sikorsky S-64E and a Bell 407, both of which were en route to address the fire. Regrettably, the Bell 407 helicopter crashed, resulting in the loss of three initial responders who were aboard the aircraft.
The individuals who lost their lives in the incident were officially identified by the Riverside Sheriff’s Department. They are Pilot Tony Sousa, aged 55, Cal Fire Assistant Chief Josh Bischof, aged 46, and Fire Captain Tim Rodriguez, aged 44. The helicopter they were on board was primarily tasked with fire observation. In contrast, the other helicopter was of a larger size and possessed the capability to release fire retardant or water for firefighting purposes.
Following the crash, a press briefing was conducted by Cal Fire Southern Region Chief David Fulcher to provide an update on the occurrence. During the conference, he indicated that it was uncertain whether the larger helicopter was carrying any load at the moment of the incident.
Rodriguez dedicated 19 years of service to the community, while Bischof contributed his skills and dedication for a span of 24 years. Notably, Bischof was recently elevated to the position of assistant chief. He fulfilled his duties at the Southern Region Operations Center located at March Air Reserve Base.
Silvio Lanzas, a former fire official, expressed admiration for Rodriguez and Bischof through social media, lauding them as exemplars within the fire service. Lanzas highlighted their roles as dedicated fathers, husbands, leaders, mentors, friends, and resolute individuals on the firefront.
The National Transportation Safety Board has assumed control of the inquiry into the crash. Just a day after the incident, investigators were present at the crash site, diligently safeguarding evidence for their comprehensive examination. Eleazar Nepomuceno, one of the investigators, informed the media that their focus was on identifying and preserving perishable information critical to determining the underlying cause of the tragic accident.