Three people killed in a mid-air helicopter crash in Riverside County Sunday night have been identified.
In a statement Monday morning, Gov. Gavin Newsom released the identities of the fallen firefighters and pilot who died while responding to a brush fire near Cabazon.
They were CAL FIRE Assistant Chief Josh Bischof, 46, CAL FIRE Fire Captain Tim Rodriguez, 44, and contract Pilot Tony Sousa, 55.
“On behalf of all Californians, our thoughts and heartfelt sympathies are with the loved ones, friends and CAL FIRE colleagues mourning the loss of Assistant Chief Bischof, Fire Captain Rodriguez, and Pilot Sousa,” Newsom said in the statement. “This terrible tragedy is a reminder of the dangers our courageous firefighters face daily while working to keep our communities safe. We owe them our deepest respect and gratitude and will always honor their bravery and sacrifices.”
The governor ordered flags at the state Capitol and Capitol Annex Swing Space be flown at half-staff.
In a statement, President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden also sent condolences to the victims’ loved ones.
“Every day, firefighters run toward danger, while everyone else runs the other way, because being a firefighter is not what they do — it’s who they are. This tragedy is yet another example, of their incredible bravery,” the statement read. “Three families of three brave Americans have an empty seat around the dinner table tonight, and our hearts go out to them.”
In a tweet Monday, CAL FIRE also extended condolences to the victims’ family and friends.
Bischof was described as a family man and a mentor who trained others on aerial firefighting.
“Chief Bischof was one of our best,” Capt. Richard Cordova told KTLA.
Rodriguez, also described as a family man, learned from Bischof, Cordova said.
The crash occurred in a remote area near Pipeline Road and Apache Trail around 7:30 p.m. Sunday, according to the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department.
One helicopter was landed safely and no one was injured, while the second helicopter crashed, killing all passengers onboard.
The collision caused an additional 4-acre brush fire which was later extinguished, officials said.
Fire crews were battling a 20-acre fire called the Broadway Fire that had spread from a structure fire near Broadway Street and Esperanza Avenue earlier that night.
The circumstances surrounding the crash remain under investigation, which will be handled by the National Transportation Safety Board.
NTSB Aviation Accident Investigator Eleazar Nepomuceno said a team that also includes the Federal Aviation Administration is assessing the scene and looking for clues to help determine what might have led to the crash. A drone will be used to get an aerial view of the crash site.
Investigators will be looking at any systematic deficiencies to the helicopter, pilot and flight training history, maintenance history, as well as environmental factors such as the weather and lighting, Nepomuceno said.
Once evidence gathering is complete, the wreckage will be relocated to Arizona where officials will work on a preliminary report. A final report will not be available for months, Nepomuceno said.
Anyone who witnessed the crash or has any additional information about the incident, is urged to contact the agency at email@example.com.