Three Texas workers and wildlife workers died in a helicopter crash Saturday while observing the landscape for desert sheep, according to state officials.
The victims were identified as wildlife biologist Dewey Stockbridge, fish and wildlife technician Brandon White, and veterinarian Dr. Bob Dittmar, according to an announcement from the Texas Department of Texas Taxation and Texas Animal Welfare (TPWD) on Sunday.
“No word can begin to express the depth of grief we feel for the loss of our colleagues in this tragic accident,” said Carter Smith, Executive Director of TPWD. “These men were smart professionals, highly regarded and appreciated by their peers and partners alike for the extraordinary passion, dedication and expertise they brought to their important work in wildlife management and veterinary medicine.”;
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The trio had been flying over the Black Gap Wildlife Management Zone, located northwest of Big Bend National Park when the helicopter crashed. The pilot, who was a private contractor, survived and was sent to El Paso for medical treatment.
Smith added that state employees were making their calls to help “observe, monitor and protect the trail of their beloved mountains in west Texas” when they were killed.
On Sunday, Texas Governor Greg Abbott issued a statement offering condolences to the families of the victims.
“Our hearts ache today for those who died in this tragic accident,” he said. “I urge all Texans to keep these families in their thoughts and prayers.”
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The Texas Department of Public Safety, the Federal Aviation Administration, and the Texas Games Wardens are currently investigating the incident, according to the press release.
Meanwhile, the National Transportation Safety Board announced Sunday that it was investigating the crash of a Bell 206B helicopter but “was not traveling to the crash site at this time,” according to the Houston Chronicle.
The TPWD had helped restore the population of desert sheep, which had been severely reduced due to unregulated hunting and diseases transmitted by domestic and exotic livestock, officials said. Their estimated population in 2018 was said to be 1,500.
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Annual fall helicopter surveys that help monitor the size and behavior of the sheep population began in West Texas in 1990, according to the TPWD.