Two people have died after their firefighting helicopter crashed at 11.00 on Wednesday 29 December near the town of Aluminé, in Neuquén Province, Argentina.
The individuals, who have not been named, were identified as the pilot and mechanic of the aircraft. They were reportedly involved in efforts to combat the wildfires currently burning across Patagonia.
The precise cause of the crash is still under investigation. However, Aluminé Mayor Gabriel Álamo, who spoke on a local radio station following the incident, commented: “The accident occurred when the winds began to intensify and complicate the advance of the flames.”
“With great sadness, we regret the death of the crew of the helicopter that fell this morning,” added Environment and Sustainable Development Minister Juan Cabandié. “We accompany their families in pain, their co-workers and the personnel who continue to work in the region.”
The news follows the crash of a Learjet 35 air ambulance on 27 December in San Diego, California, killing all four people onboard.
Wildfires are a growing concern in Argentina
Forest fires have become more common in Argentina in recent years due to climate change, with the current outbreak beginning in early December. According to the National Fire Management Service, active wildfires are currently ongoing in seven provinces, including Neuquén, Río Negro and Chubut, Santa Fe, San Luis, Formosa and Misiones.
Drought, high temperatures and changeable wind conditions have hindered efforts to control the flames, with 17 aircraft and over 300 firefighters now engaged in controlling the situation.
In 2021, approximately 302,450 hectares of land has been burnt – equating to an area larger than Hong Kong. Argentina’s Environment Ministry and Federal Environmental Council (Cofema) declared a 12-month fire emergency last week, due to the high risk of further forest and grassland fires.