Albuquerque Journal

2 killed in crash of plane responding to wildfire

Crew was doing aerial reconnaiss­ance on blaze


WIKIEUP, Ariz. — Federal authoritie­s on Sunday were at the scene of the crash of a small plane that killed two crew members responding to a wildfire in northweste­rn Arizona.

Both people aboard the Beechcraft King Air C-90 aircraft died in Saturday’s crash.

The state Bureau of Land Management on Sunday identified the victims as Air Tactical Group Supervisor Jeff Piechura, 62, a retired Tucson-area fire chief who was working for the Coronado National Forest, and Matthew Miller, 48, a pilot with Falcon Executive Aviation contracted by the U.S. Forest Service.

“Our hearts go out to the families of our brave wildland firefighte­rs,” an Arizona Bureau of Land Management spokespers­on said in a statement.

Bureau officials said the plane went down around noon Saturday as it was doing aerial reconnaiss­ance and helping direct aviation resources over a lightning-caused wildfire burning outside Wikieup, a tiny Mohave County community about 123 miles (206 kilometers) northwest of Phoenix.

The wildfire ignited Friday evening and fueled by brush and grass was at more than 700 acres (283 hectares) Sunday and still with zero containmen­t.

Arizona Bureau of Land Management spokeswoma­n Dolores Garcia declined to discuss any aspects of the plane crash Sunday, saying investigat­ors from the National Transporta­tion Safety Board, the Federal Aviation Administra­tion and the Interior Department’s Office of Aviation Services will try to determine the cause.

“We don’t have answers right now. We hope to get them in the coming days,” Garcia said.

The Arizona Republic quoted a 54-year-old Wikieup woman who said she saw the plane going down at a “steep angle” before hitting the ground.

Michele Machholz said she was looking outside from her kitchen while talking to her husband on the phone and thought she saw a turkey vulture before realizing it was a plane.

Machholz said she then watched the plane “slam into the ground.”

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