LAS VEGAS, N.M. (AP) — Four people have been killed in a crash of a Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office helicopter that was headed back to Albuquerque after assisting firefighters in another New Mexico city, authorities said Sunday.
Sheriff’s officials said three people from the sheriff’s office and a county firefighter were aboard the helicopter when it went down near Las Vegas, New Mexico, about 123 miles (197 kilometers) northeast of Albuquerque.
Killed in the crash were Undersheriff Larry Koren, Lt. Fred Beers, Deputy Michael Levison and county Fire and Rescue Department Specialist Matthew King, according to sheriff’s officials.
The ages of the four men weren’t immediately available.
A Federal Aviation Administration spokeswoman had said the Bell UH-1H helicopter crashed around 10 p.m. Saturday, but sheriff’s officials said it was about 7:20 p.m.
The cause of the crash is unknown and will be investigated by the FAA and National Transportation Safety Board.
New Mexico State Police confirmed the crash and the fatalities around 12:15 a.m. Sunday.
They said helicopter and its crew had been assisting with a wildfire in the Las Vegas area Saturday, providing bucket drops and other air logistics needs to fire crews on the ground.
Sheriff’s officials said they now are working with the Office of the Medical Investigator to recover the bodies of the four men and take them back to Albuquerque.
Aerial video from KOAT-TV showed the wreckage of the helicopter in at least two pieces among some desert shrubs, the Albuquerque Journal reported.
In the past several days, the Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office used its Metro 2 helicopter to fight a small fire in the East Mountains near Albuquerque and another fire near Santa Fe, according to Albuquerque TV station KQRE.
“I am heartbroken by the tragic loss of four New Mexicans while in the line of duty,” Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said in a statement. “As we await additional details on the investigation, my office will offer any available support and assistance to the sheriff’s office and the county. State resources will be fully available to assist the investigation.”