Helicopter helping fight Payson wildfire crashes, pilot dies

PAYSON, Ariz. (AP) — A helicopter helping to fight a wildfire near Payson crashed under unknown circumstances Tuesday, killing the pilot, authorities said.

A Federal Aviation Administration spokesman said the pilot was the only person aboard the Bell UH-1H helicopter that went down Tuesday afternoon about 10 miles (16 kilometers) west of Payson in the Tonto National Forest.

Pine-Strawberry Fire Department officials confirmed the pilot was killed, but didn’t release the pilot’s name.

FAA spokesman Ian Gregor said the FAA and National Transportation Board will investigate the crash and the NTSB will try to determine the probable cause.

The lightning-caused Polles Fire started Friday in the Mazatzal Wilderness on top of the Polles Mesa.

Fire officials said the area is only accessible by helicopter and crews have been sleeping in the wilderness with food, drinking water and supplies flown in daily by helicopter.

Four hotshot crews were airlifted Monday into the area to battle the fire, which is burning high desert grass and pinion juniper.

The fire had grown to almost 1 square mile (2.5 kilometers) by Tuesday morning with zero containment.