A helicopter crash near Coalinga, California, killed a pilot employed by a company contracted to make aerial water dumps on the wildfires raging in California’s San Joaquin Valley.

The Fresno County Sheriff’s Office said that pilot Michael John Fournier, 52, of Rancho Cucamonga, was killed when the 2009 Bell UH-1 helicopter he was flying crashed in the morning of Wednesday, Aug. 19. He was the only person aboard the aircraft.

Authorities said the helicopter crash triggered a brush fire that spread to merge with the Hills Fire that has spread over 1,500 acres, according to KGET Bakersfield.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) said Mr. Fourier’s helicopter went down in rugged terrain about 11 miles south of New Coalinga Municipal Airport. His body was recovered later in the day by a 15-person search and rescue team that included several deputies and volunteers, a deputy coroner, and a crime scene technician. The helicopter wreckage was recovered the following day.

Authorities don’t know what might have happened to cause the helicopter crash. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) and FAA are investigating. The NTSB normally recovers the crashed aircraft and takes it to a facility where experts analyze it for any signs indicating a potential mechanical flaw. Investigators also look into the pilot’s past record and actions taken during the final flight and environmental conditions that could have played a role.

Mr. Fournier was an experienced pilot who worked for Guardian Helicopters, a Fillmore-based company that contracts with Cal Fire to provide aerial firefighting and a multitude of other aerial services. According to Guardian Helicopter’s website, the company has been in business since 2001 and services Arizona, Nevada, Oregon, Texas and Utah in addition to California.

Beasley Allen lawyer Mike Andrews focuses much of his practice on aviation litigation. Mike has represented people seriously injured in a variety of aviation crashes, and the families of those killed in both civilian and military airplane crashes and helicopter crashes. He currently represents families of Ethiopian Airlines flight 302 victims involving the Boeing 737 MAX aircraft.

Additional sources:
Fire Aviation
NBC Los Angeles

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