1 dead in helicopter crash




TUCSON - Authorities have confirmed that Pima County Sheriff's Department Civilian Pilot Loren Leonberger was pronounced dead at the scene and three others were injured in the crash of a Pima County Sheriff's Department helicopter on a mountainside in the Ironwood National Forest.

The crash occurred around 11:30 a.m. Monday.

A press release from the Sheriff's Department states that the crash was located in the area of Silverbell and Waterman Roads.

Sheriff's spokesman Jason Ogan said four people were on board. Three people were taken to the hospital; one is in critical condition and two others are in serious condition.

The team was looking for sites as part of a planned upgrade to the sheriff's countywide communications system in rural areas.

Ogan said the crashed helicopter was on a slope near a ledge, making it hard for rescuers to reach the site.

Rescuers rappelled down the side of the mountain to reach the victims, still inside the chopper. The first rescuers reached the victims at 1:07 p.m., more than an hour-and-a-half after the crash was first reported.

Capt. Adam Goldberg of the Northwest Fire District said several medical helicopters transported the victims to University Medical Center.

U.S. Border Patrol told 9 On Your Side it assisted the rescue effort by sending one to two BORSTAR teams, which are medically trained units rescue units.

Ogan said Border Patrol Agents rescued two people.

Rescuers from Davis-Monthan Air Force Base airlifted another victim and loaded him into a military helicopter.

Tech. Sgt. Russ Martin at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base said the Air Force coordinated the air rescue operation.

He said two Pave Hawk helicopters and Air Force Reservists from the 305th Rescue Squad and the 306th Operations Squad worked the scene.

According to Ogan, two of the people inside the chopper were unconscious after it went down. Two others were conscious and able to communicate with rescuers.

Ogan said the team inside the light utility helicopter were searching for a site for part of a new Pima County wireless integrated network system.

The only radio communication the sheriff's department received from the helicopter was notification that the chopper was going down. Rescue crews were sent to the scene immediately, Ogan said.

Aircraft registration data shows that the helicopter, N530RL, is owned by the Pima County Government - the Board of Superivsors - and assigned to the Sheriff's Department. The latest certificate for the aircraft was issued in August 2008 for the McDonnell Douglas 369FF helicopter.

The National Transportation Safety Board will assume responsibility for crash investigation and expects to have a team of investigators here in Tucson by Tuesday.