Author Bill Gabbert

A law enforcement helicopter assisting firefighters on a wildfire in New Mexico crashed Saturday July 16, killing the four personnel on board.

“Preliminary information indicates that three Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office (BCSO) personnel and one Bernalillo County Fire employee were onboard at the time of the crash,” the Sheriff’s Department said in a statement at 12:26 a.m. Sunday. “There are no known survivors. These personnel were headed back to Albuquerque after assisting fire crews with the East Mesa Fire. Representatives from BCSO are on scene along with the New Mexico State Police. At this time the investigation into this incident is in its preliminary stages.”

Preliminary information available soon after an aircraft crash, even if from very reputable sources, is rarely 100 percent accurate. The NTSB will investigate this incident and within a year or so will release a final report.

The helicopter was a Bell UH-1H Huey, N911SZ, serial number 70-16431.

KRQE reported that “BCSO has frequently used its helicopter to provide aerial firefighting and other assistance across New Mexico, particularly this fire season. In the past several days, BCSO used the Metro 2 helicopter to fight a small fire in the East Mountains near Albuquerque, and the Atalaya Fire near Santa Fe.”

The last flight of the helicopter recorded on FlightAware showed that at 1:53 p.m. MDT on July 16 it departed Double Eagle II Airport seven miles northwest of the central business district of Albuquerque then flew west for the next 39 minutes in the general direction of the East Mesa Fire. The aircraft was last recorded in a very remote location 25 miles east-northeast of Albuquerque, 6 miles southwest of Las Vegas, NM at 2:32 p.m. MDT. That was 27 miles west of the fire at an elevation of approximately 7,300 according to FlightAware’s flight data and Google Earth’s topographic data. The aircraft had been slowly descending from 7,640′ for the previous three minutes.

A UH-1H pilot was killed in Australia February 14, 2022 when the helicopter crashed while working on a bush fire southeast of Pipers Brook, Tasmania.

We send out our sincere condolences to the families, friends, and co-workers of the four personnel who were killed Saturday.