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Pilot dead after helicopter fighting wildfire crashes in northwestern Alberta

Investigators with the Transportation Safety Board of Canada are deploying to northwestern Alberta after a pilot died in a helicopter crash while fighting a wildfire. A 41-year-old man from Whitecourt, Alta., was fatally injured in the crash.

41-year-old victim was from Whitecourt, Alta., RCMP say

A fire burns above a forest, smoke fills the sky.

Investigators with the Transportation Safety Board of Canada are deploying to northwestern Alberta after a pilot died in a helicopter crash while fighting a wildfire.

A 41-year-old man from Whitecourt, Alta., died after his helicopter collided with the ground as he worked to deliver water to a fire, RCMP said.

He is the third person to die battling wildfires in Canada this year, the worst wildfire season in the country's history.

In a deployment notice Thursday morning, the TSB said an investigative team is en route to the scene of the crash near Haig Lake, east of the town of Manning in the Peace River region.

The pilot was the lone person on board when the Bell 205A helicopter crashed into swampy terrain Wednesday, TSB spokesperson Chris Krepski said.

The first signal from the helicopter's emergency locator transmitter was received at 6:15 p.m. from the crash site, 43 nautical miles east-northeast of Peace River, Krepski said.

Krepski said investigators are expected to arrive on scene later Thursday. They will try to determine what caused the helicopter to collide with the terrain.

"It collided with the ground during firefighting operations," he said. "It was during some phase of bucketing operations.

"I don't know what phase it would have been, whether it would have been while it was picking up water or it was releasing water. That is typically what we would try to find out."

Helicopters involved in bucketing operations use a specialized bucket suspended on a cable to deliver water to a fire.

The crash site is unreachable by road. RCMP were flown to the scene by helicopter, said Cpl. Troy Savinkoff.

Officers arrived around 8 p.m., about an hour after the first call to police came in, Savinkoff said Thursday.

"RCMP were transported to the area where crews were doing CPR on the lone occupant of the helicopter," he said.

"I believe it was other forestry workers who found him with the helicopter, and then landed and attempted to provide first aid."

The pilot was taken to the Peace River airport where he was declared dead, Savinkoff said.

The helicopter was operated by Valhalla Helicopters, which is based in West Kelowna, B.C. Company officials declined to comment on the crash.

The pilot's death is the latest death this year on the front lines of Canada's wildfire season.

Wildland firefighter Adam Yeadon, 25 was fatally injured Saturday afternoon while battling a fire near the community of Fort Liard, N.W.T.

Devyn Gale, 19, was struck and killed by a falling tree while battling a small wildfire in southeast B.C. on July 13.

On social media Thursday, Alberta Premier Danielle 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.

In a statement, Todd Loewen, Alberta's forestry minister, extended his condolences to the pilot's family and thanked Alberta 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 danger every day to protect Alberta families," Loewen said.

"To see a life cut short in these circumstances is incredibly heartbreaking and Alberta's government is incredibly thankful 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 burning near the lake where the helicopter crashed.

The largest of the fires in the district is the Kimiwan Complex fire, which is more than 143,000 hectares in size and continues to burn out of control.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Wallis Snowdon

Reporter

Wallis Snowdon is a journalist with CBC Edmonton focused on bringing stories to the website and the airwaves. Originally from New Brunswick, Wallis has reported in communities across Canada, from Halifax to Fort McMurray. She previously worked as a digital and current affairs producer with CBC Radio in Edmonton. Share your stories with Wallis at wallis.snowdon@cbc.ca.

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