One dead as firefighting helicopter explodes after colliding with overhead cables
One person is dead after a fightfighting helicopter tackling a blaze in Valongo (Porto district) crashed this afternoon.
Reports coming in just before 5pm say witnesses described a “huge explosion” following collision with overhead cables.
At first it wasn’t clear whether there were any victims.
As we wrote this text, confirmation has come through of one death: the pilot, Noel Ferreira, the 35-year-old firefighter chief of a local fire station and an air force pilot by profession.
CMTV is reporting that the helicopter was at work because the blaze was in a “difficult place” from the point of view of access.
Twenty three firefighters are currently on the ground, while others are making their way to the crash site.
The helicopter is described as having got caught between high tension cables and then fallen to the ground.
Updates to follow:
A source for the Air Force has confirmed that Noel Ferreira was part of its squadron 751, flying military EH-101 helicopters.
Yesterday’s mission, in his role as fire chief of the station at Cete (Paredes), had seen him only minutes before drop a first-response team of three firefighters on the ground.
Ferreira was flying in this instance for The Navigator pulping company.
A source for the Air Force explained he was on holiday and “duly authorised” to operate civilian aircraft.
Bruno Fonseca, chief of Valongo fire station, said Noel Ferreira was flying a Celca 2 helicopter.
He described Ferreira as a “very experienced commander and very humble”.
Television crews reporting from close to the crash site said firefighters wept openly when they heard Ferreira had not survived.
Only a couple of months ago, Jornal de Notícias carried an article on Ferreira, as he took over as fire chief at Cete station, describing him as a man who felt he was doing “a dream job”. Ferreira had wanted to be a pilot since his teens, and enrolled at the Air Force training college at the age of 17.
He initially thought he wanted to be a fighter pilot, but found ‘search and rescue’ to be what he preferred best, flying hundreds of operations – some of them incredibly challenging.
Eye-witnesses yesterday say the tragedy may well have been caused by the rising smoke that could have obscured Ferreira’s view, leading him to crash into the cables.
An official investigation is underway.