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Nine feared dead in California helicopter crash

Posted on 10:15 AM by Sameer Shah

Nine people are feared dead after a helicopter being used to ferry firefighters crashed in northern California.

The helicopter was carrying 11 firefighters and two crew members when it went down night deep in the Shasta-Trinity National Forest and was destroyed by fire, according to the Federal Aviation Administration.

Four people - three firefighters and a pilot - were flown to hospitals with severe burns after other firefighters who were waiting to be picked up helped tend to their injuries, said Jennifer Rabuck, a spokeswoman for the US Forest Service. The other nine people are feared dead.

Fire raging through rugged, dense terrain has been complicating the efforts of rescue crews after the crash, which occurred on Tuesday night local time.

The Forest Service and the Trinity County Sheriff's Department would not disclose whether they had removed any bodies from the crash site or what the search effort entailed.

The National Transportation Safety Board said it had dispatched a team of investigators to survey the wreckage and to begin the long process of determining what caused the helicopter to crash.

Ten of the firefighters, including the three in the hospital, were employed by firefighting contractor Grayback Forestry, according to Kelli Matthews, a spokesman for the company, which is based in Merlin, Oregon. Seven employees were unaccounted for late yesterday, Miss Matthews said.

The firefighters had been working at the northern end of a fire burning on more than 27 square miles in the national forest, part of a larger complex of blazes that is mostly contained.

Michael Brown, 20, and Jonathan Frohreich, 18, both firefighters from Grayback, as well as one of the two pilots, were being treated at the Davis Medical Centre at the University of California, in Sacramento, according to the company.

A spokesman said the hospital was also treating a victim in critical condition named William Coultas, but he could not confirm whether the patient was the co-pilot.

Another Grayback employee, identified as Richard Schroeder, 42, was in serious condition at Mercy Medical Centre in Redding, officials said.

The helicopter was owned and operated by Carson Helicopters Inc., a Pennsylvania company whose firefighting operations are based in Grants Pass, Oregon. All 12 of the company's helicopters are being used for firefighting in Oregon and California, said Bob Madden, Carson's director of corporate affairs.

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