Government officials said three Texas Parks and Wildlife employees died in a helicopter crash on Saturday while examining the landscape for desert bighorn sheep.
The victims were killed as wildlife biologist Dewey Stockbridge, fish and wildlife technician Brandon White and veterinarian Dr. Bob Dittmar identified.
“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. “These men were accomplished professionals who were valued and valued by their colleagues and partners alike for the immense passion, dedication and expertise they brought to their critical work in wildlife management and veterinary medicine.”
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The trio had been flying over the Black Gap Wildlife Management Area, which was northwest of Big Bend National Park, when the helicopter crashed. The pilot, a private contractor, survived and was taken to El Paso for medical treatment.
Smith added that state officials were on call to “watch, monitor, and protect the thickhorns of their beloved mountains in West Texas” when they were killed.
On Sunday, Texas Governor Greg Abbott issued a statement expressing condolences to the families of the victims.
“Our hearts ache today for those who died in this tragic accident,” he said. “I ask all Texans to keep these families in their thoughts and prayers.”
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The Texas Department of Public Security, the Federal Aviation Administration and the Texas Game Wardens are currently investigating the incident, according to a press release.
Meanwhile, the National Transportation Safety Board announced on Sunday that it was investigating the crash of a Bell 206B helicopter, but “is not going to the crash site at this time,” according to the Houston Chronicle.
The TPWD helped restore the desert big horn sheep population, which has declined sharply due to unregulated hunting and diseases transmitted by native and exotic animals. Their estimated population in 2018 is said to be 1,500.
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Annual fall helicopter surveys began in 1990 in West Texas to monitor population size and sheep behavior, according to the TPWD.