AUSTIN, Texas -- Texas Parks and Wildlife is honoring three employees who died after their helicopter crashed over the weekend in a West Texas wildlife preserve.
It killed Dewey Stockbridge, a wildlife biologist, Brandon White, a department fish and wildlife technician, and Dr. Bob Dittmar, state wildlife veterinarian. The helicopter's pilot, a private contractor, survived and was taken to El Paso for treatment, according to the department.
On Wednesday afternoon, the department posted a series of tweets with the photos and backgrounds about each person.
TPWD said Stockbridge was the lead wildlife biologist at Elephant Mountain Wildlife Management Area, south of Alpine. He joined the department in 2005 and was instrumental in restoring pronghorn and desert bighorn sheep to their native range, TPWD said.
White was also based out of Elephant Mountain Wildlife Management Area. He started his career with TPWD in 2016. He also played a vital role in preserving the health of Texas wildlife by assisting with surveys and translocations for bighorn sheep and pronghorn, activities the department said is essential to keeping the animal populations thriving.
Dittmar was the department's first-ever staff wildlife veterinarian, helping the "agency diagnose and respond to the complexities of health and disease issues that affect Texas wildlife," TPWD wrote in a tweet.
The group was conducting aerial surveys of desert bighorn sheep in the Black Gap Wildlife Management Area on Saturday when the helicopter went down, according to a statement from the agency.
It was not immediately clear what caused the crash, which Gov. Greg Abbott called a "tragic accident."
"No words can begin to express the depth of sadness we feel for the loss of our colleagues in this tragic accident," said Carter Smith, TPWD executive director. "Wildlife conservation in Texas lost three of its finest as they so honorably and dutifully carried out their calling to help survey, monitor and protect the bighorns of their beloved west Texas mountains. All of us at the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department send our deepest condolences and sympathies to the Stockbridge, White, and Dittmar families in the wake of this devastating tragedy and continue to pray for the health and recovery of the pilot."
The Black Gap Wildlife Management Area is near the U.S.-Mexico border in Brewster County, some 300 miles (482 kilometres) southeast of El Paso.
The Texas Department of Public Safety, the Federal Aviation Administration and the Texas Game Wardens are investigating the crash.
"Jan and I are deeply saddened to hear the news of this horrible accident, and our prayers are with the families, friends and loved ones of the victims. We ask all Texans to join us in mourning their passing," Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick said in a statement.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.