2 killed in crash of plane responding to an Arizona wildfire

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WIKIEUP, Ariz. (AP) — Federal authorities on Sunday were at the scene of the crash of a small plane that killed two crew members responding to a wildfire in northwestern Arizona.
Both people aboard the Beech C-90 aircraft died in Saturday’s crash, and the state Bureau of Land Management on Sunday identified one of them as Jeff Piechura, a retired Tucson fire chief who was working for the U.S. Forest Service.
The name of the other person killed was being withheld until relatives could be notified, authorities said.
“Our hearts go out to the families of our brave wildland firefighters,” an Arizona Bureau of Land Management spokesperson said in a statement.
Bureau officials said the plane went down around noon Saturday as it was doing aerial reconnaissance and helping direct aviation resources over a lightning-caused wildfire burning 14 miles east of Wikieup, a tiny Mohave County community about 123 miles (206 kilometers) northwest of Phoenix.
The wildfire ignited Friday evening and, fueled by brush and grass, was at 300 acres (121 hectares) by Saturday. It still was burning uncontained.
Arizona Bureau of Land Management spokeswoman Dolores Garcia declined to discuss any aspects of the crash, saying investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board and Federal Aviation Administration will try to determine the cause.
“We don’t have answers right now. We hope to get them in the coming days,” Garcia said.
The Arizona Republic quoted a 54-year-old Wikieup woman who said she saw the plane going down at a “steep angle” before it hit the ground.
Michele Machholz said she was looking outside from her kitchen while talking to her husband on the phone and first thought she saw a turkey vulture before realizing it was a plane.
“And it’s coming down at an angle that … you don’t traditionally see airplanes flying at,” Machholz told the Republic.
Machholz said she then watched the plane “slam into the ground.”
“I’m screaming on the phone, ‘And, oh my gosh, it just crashed! I can’t believe it,’” she said. “I’m trying to tell my husband that this airplane just crashed and there was this big, black plume of giant, black smoke.”
Machholz declined an interview request Sunday when reached by The Associated Press.
“I’m a retired photojournalist for 30 years, and I don’t wish to relive the horror of yesterday,” said Machholz, 54. “I will state this: There’s an enormous difference between covering disasters on assignment as a journalist and witnessing them live in front of you. … I am in a state of shock still.”

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