Six airborne firefighters from an Aragon brigade died when their helicopter crashed in Teruel province, eastern Spain, as they were going to extinguish a wildfire in a remote area on Saturday. The chopper, a Bell 407, apparently crashed into a hillside at around 1.30pm, authorities said.
The causes of the crash were still under investigation on Sunday. The firefighting team was on its way to put out a blaze in the area between the towns of Villel and Cascante del Río.
Those reported killed were Ramón Millán Salafranca, 24, and Angus Thompson Caminals, 35, both of Alcañiz in Teruel; Esteban and Francisco Javier Galve B. O., also both from Alcañiz but living in Andorra (Teruel); pilot Albert B., 38, of Manresa (Barcelona); and Rafael A. O., 40, a native of Torre de Arcas and residing in Mas de las Matas.
The only survivor was forest firefighter Ángel Aznar, a 32-year-old resident of Castellote, who was taken to Obispo Polanco Hospital in Teruel. He was reported to be in critical condition, suffering head trauma and fractures of his limbs, although doctors said that his injuries were not life threatening. No adverse weather conditions were reported and visibility was good. The Civil Guard reached the craft at around 2.45pm.
Authorities were alerted by another helicopter of the Aragon environmental office after it located the downed chopper following the accident. Rescue efforts continued for more than four hours. The unit had fallen in a remote area, which was difficult to gain access to. A crane had to lift the helicopter, which had pinned down several of its passengers.
Meanwhile, three hours after the incident, panic gripped the crewmembers' relatives who were uncertain of who had perished in the crash. Many of them continued to call the cellphones of the crewmembers, but it was through a helpline for victims that their worst fears were confirmed.
Two other helicopters, along with two seaplanes, trucks and other vehicles and ground crews were called in to extinguish the fire late Saturday. The blaze had burned between 80 to 90 hectares.
Marcelino Iglesias, the regional premier of Aragon and his environmental chief, traveled to Teruel after hearing the news. The royal family as well as Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero sent their condolences to the families.
It wasn't the first tragedy for the brigade. In August 2007, one of its members died after being hit by the branch of a tree in the Martín River Gorge in Teruel.