Investigators from the Transport Safety Board of Canada are deploying to northwestern Alberta after a pilot was killed in a helicopter crash while fighting a bushfire.
A 41-year-old Whitecourt, Alta., man died after his helicopter hit the ground while he was working to deliver water to a fire, RCMP said.
He is the third person to die fighting wildfires in Canada this year, deaths that have drawn attention to the dangers crews have faced during the worst season in the country’s history.
In a deployment notice on Thursday morning, the TSB said an investigation team was heading to the scene of the crash near Haig Lake, east of the town of Manning in the Peace River region.
The pilot was the only person on board when the Bell 205A helicopter crashed into swampy ground on Wednesday, TSB spokesman Chris Krepski said.
The first signal from the helicopter’s emergency locator transmitter was received at 6:15 pm from the crash site, 43 nautical miles east-northeast of Peace River, Krepski said.
Krepski said investigators are expected to arrive on the scene later Thursday. They will try to determine what caused the helicopter to hit the ground.
“It collided with the ground during firefighting operations,” he said. “It was during some phase of the bucketing operations.
“I don’t know what phase it would have been, if it would have been while it was picking up water or if it was releasing water. That’s typically what we would try to find out.”
Helicopters involved in bucket operations use a specialized bucket suspended from a cable to deliver water to the fire.
The accident site is inaccessible by road. RCMP were airlifted to the scene by helicopter, said Cpl. Troy Savinkoff.
Officers arrived around 8 p.m., about an hour after the first call to police, Savinkoff said Thursday.
“The RCMP was transported to the area where crews were performing CPR on the sole occupant of the helicopter,” he said.
“I think it was other forest workers who found him with the helicopter, and then they landed and tried to give him first aid.”
The pilot was taken to the Peace River airport where he was pronounced dead, Savinkoff said.
The helicopter was operated by West Kelowna, BC-based Valhalla Helicopters. Company officials declined to comment on the accident.
The pilot’s death is the latest fatality this year on the front lines of Canada’s wildfire season.
Wildland firefighter Adam Yeadon, 25, was fatally injured Saturday afternoon while fighting a fire near the community of Fort Liard, NWT
Devyn Gale, 19, was struck and killed by a falling tree while fighting a small forest fire in southeast BC on July 13.
Fighting Alberta wildfires by air has proven deadly in the past. Heath Coleman, 48, of Prince George, BC, died in June 2021 while working to fight a fire near Evansburg, Alta. He was flying solo in a Bell 212 when it crashed in a rural area near the front of the fire.
Jean-Luc Deba, 54, of Montreal, died on May 20, 2011 when his Bell 212 helicopter crashed into Lesser Slave Lake. The pilot was trying to drop water on the flames when he crashed.
On Thursday, Alberta Premier Danielle Smith and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau expressed their condolences following Wednesday’s fatal crash.
Smith said the pilot’s death is a reminder of how fire crews put their lives on the line every day to keep communities safe.
Todd Loewen, Alberta’s Minister of Forestry, thanked Alberta’s wildland fire crews for their continued bravery.
“While we mourn a life lost in the line of duty, Alberta’s brave first responders continue to put themselves in harm’s way every day to protect Alberta families,” Loewen said in a statement.
“To see a life cut short in these circumstances is incredibly heartbreaking and the Alberta government is incredibly grateful for those who continue to protect our communities from these devastating fires.”
Officials with Alberta Wildfire, the province’s wildfire-fighting agency, declined to comment on the pilot’s death.
According to the agency, 110 wildfires have been reported in the Peace River Forest area this year, including two near the lake where the helicopter crashed.
The largest of the fires in the district is the Kimiwan Complex fire, which has a size of more than 143,000 hectares and continues to burn out of control.