Pensacola, Fl

Family members identify the pilot killed in a helicopter crash in central California as Mike Fournier, 52, from Rancho Cucamonga.

Authorities said he was the only person outside when the helicopter crashed.

Ian Gregor, a spokesman for the Federal Aviation Administration, said the helicopter participating in the firefighting operations crashed in unknown conditions 11 miles south of New Colinga Municipal Airport around 10 a.m.

The crash site was in a remote southwest of the fire.

Cal Fire spokesman Seth Brown said the helicopter was confirmed to belong to a company contracted to make water droplets burning in the hills near Kualinga.

Coalinga is located 65 miles southwest of Fresno, midway between San Francisco and Los Angeles.

An employee confirmed that the company is Guardian Helicopters, based in Fillmore, California, Ventura County. They did not want to comment, but their website lists services that include firefighting, and shows photos of the same helicopter that was identified in the accident – a Bell UH-1H.

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

He said, “We have witnessed the accident several specially contracted helicopters to help us with water drops in the past two days.”

The accident sparked another fire, which eventually merged with the Fire Hills making it difficult for search and rescue crews of the Fresno County Police Office to reach it. Rugged terrain, three-digit temperatures and winds also added to the challenge.

Brown said a tragedy like this is uncommon in wildland firefighting.

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

Search and rescue personnel collected Fournier’s body at approximately 8:30 pm. He said it took a total of 6 and a half hours to get in and out of the scene, according to the Fresno County Sheriff’s office. They also said that they covered it with an American flag.

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