Procession honors firefighters killed in helicopter collision above Cabazon

Leticia Juarez Image
Friday, August 11, 2023
Procession honors firefighters killed in Cabazon midair crash
A solemn procession honored two Cal Fire officials who were killed when two firefighting helicopters collided in the skies above Cabazon.

PERRIS, Calif. (KABC) -- A solemn procession on Thursday afternoon honored two Cal Fire officials who were killed when two firefighting helicopters collided in the skies above Cabazon.

Cal Fire Assistant Chief Josh Bischof, 46, Cal Fire Capt. Tim Rodriguez, 44, were in a Bell 407 with contract pilot Tony Sousa, 55, at the time of the crash. The three men died when the helicopter, which was responding to a blaze, collided with a Sikorsky S-64E and plummeted to the ground. The larger Sikorsky landed safely.

The Bell helicopter was being used for observation and coordination. The Sikorsky can drop water or retardant on fires.

Thursday's procession began at the Riverside County coroner's office in Perris and made its way to Evans Brown Mortuary in Menifee. The motorcade was comprised of dozens of police motorcycles and other emergency vehicles, escorting hearses with the fallen firefighters' caskets inside. A Cal Fire helicopter followed the caravan from overhead.

Mourners stood alongside the route to pay their respects, including firefighters from local agencies, law enforcement officers and civilians.

After the procession arrived at the mortuary, emergency responders stood at attention as the flag-draped caskets were removed from the vehicles and taken into the building.

Bischof had 24 years of fire service and Rodriguez had 19 years, fire officials said.

President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden offered their condolences to the families of the pilot and two firefighters who were killed in a midair helicopter collision in Riverside County.

Bischof, who lived in Menifee, recently was promoted to assistant chief and worked at the Southern Region Operations Center at March Air Reserve Base, retired Cal Fire Battalion Chief Don Camp said.

President Joe Biden was briefed about the crash and "he and the first lady are praying for the families of the firefighters who lost their lives while bravely battling this fire," White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters Monday as Biden flew to Arizona.

Flags at the State Capitol were ordered flown at half-staff in their honor.

"This terrible tragedy is a reminder of the dangers our courageous firefighters face daily while working to keep our communities safe. We owe them our deepest respect and gratitude and will always honor their bravery and sacrifices," Gov. Gavin Newsom said in a statement.

The Associate Press contributed to this report.