Firefighting helicopter explodes, killing pilot

With the whole country sweltering on maximum fire alert this weekend, and known arsonists confined to their homes, a firefighting helicopter has crashed in the north, killing its Portuguese pilot.

The accident happened in Cabril, Castro Daire, at around 12.30 pm today.

According to reports the helicopter was busy tackling the reignition of a pre-existing fire when it came into contact with four high tension electricity cables.

The incident sent the aircraft spinning out of control.

Says SIC TV, it exploded as it hit the ground. Other reports talk about it exploding in the air.

The pilot – named shortly after 3pm as Américo Sousa, aged 51 – is understood to have been the only person on board, having earlier dropped GNR special forces on the ground and then engaged in dampening down operations.

The helicopter belongs to Everjets, the company with the State contract for firefighting.

As television stations cover this latest tragedy, much is being stressed of the dangerous nature of firefighting pilots’ crucial roles in the combat of wildfires.

It is a job that requires nerves of steel, skill and bucketloads of bravery, say sources on the ground.

This is not the first helicopter crash in this summer’s terrible fires, but it is the first report of pilot death.

Says CMTV, Sousa was trying to stem flames approaching a nearby village when his helicopter hit the electricity cables.

Recovery efforts are being hampered by the fact that there is still an active fire in progress, and efforts first are focused on protecting lives and property.

Elsewhere, the situation today is one of extreme complexity, with fires still active in the north and centre, and thousands of exhausted firefighters working round the clock.

In Covilhã, for example, a number of fronts are being fanned by strong winds. CMTV’s reporter on the spot said earlier this afternoon that, for the time being, “firefighters are losing the battle”.

[email protected]

Image: Taken from Américo Sousa’s Facebook page