Pilot dead, 3 hurt in Arizona police helicopter crash

TUCSON, Arizona Mon Jan 31, 2011 7:49pm EST

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TUCSON, Arizona (Reuters) - A pilot was killed and three people injured, one of them critically, when a sheriff's department helicopter slammed into a remote hillside northwest of Tucson on Monday, authorities said.

The Pima County Sheriff's Department said a department helicopter crashed at around 11:30 a.m. local time in an area of the rugged Avra Valley, killing the pilot identified as Loren Leonberger.

"We have one deceased on scene ... We have three in hospital, one in critical condition, the other two in serious condition," sheriff's department spokesman Jason Ogan told Reuters.

The helicopter crashed while scouting out possible locations for radio communications towers in the brush and cactus-studded hills, Ogan said, trapping three victims in the wreckage.

The injured were flown by helicopter to the University Medical Center hospital in Tucson for treatment.

News pictures showed the broken fuselage of a blue and white helicopter without rotors, lying a few yards beneath the steep summit of a rocky crag.

Border Patrol agents, local fire department rescue workers and helicopters from the Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Tucson took part in the rescue.

The department said it would not release the identities of the surviving passengers until their families had been notified.

It said Lorenberger was a civilian pilot who joined the sheriff's department in 2008.

(Reporting by Tim Gaynor; Editing by Greg McCune)

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