By Staff Writer | May 1, 2007
Shots were fired April 8 at two contract helicopters fighting wildfires reported to have been set by arsonists near Chile’s Lake Lleu Lleu 270 nm (500 km) south of the capital city of Santiago.
The Consorcio Patagonia Del Pacifico Bell Helicopter UH-1s were under contract to the mining company Forestal Mininco, which owned the land on which the fires burned. A managing partner of Consorcio Patagonia Del Pacifico, Carlos Barrie, said the aircraft were dropping their first load of water when they were hit by shotgun fire.
"The aircraft were flying one behind the other," he said. The first one was hit on the left side of the fuselage, but the pilot didn’t realize he was taking fire. "He only heard the noise."
The second helicopter was hit on the pilot’s chin bubble. "So the pilot immediately noticed that they where being attacked," Barrie said. "He informed the other pilot and both aircraft left the area immediately."
The aircrew members were unhurt. "This is the first time in 20 years that we have been attacked," Barrie said. "Our operations are very appreciated by the public, who understand the risk involved in firefighting activities."
The shootings are under investigation by police and the Chilean air force, which controls the nation’s airspace.
Consorcio Patagonia Del Pacifico is the joint venture of Inversiones Aereas Patagonia and Helicopteros Del Pacifico, which was set up in 2004. It is focused primarily on firefighting.