A helicopter crash in New Mexico killed five people, including the Zimbabwean opposition leader, his wife and a prominent businessman. The sole survivor called 911 and remained on the call for an hour while rescuers worked to get to the wreckage. According to her phone call, the Huey UH-1 helicopter had been in the air for only five minutes when it crashed in mountainous terrain. Initially, three people survived the accident, but two died before they could receive treatment at a local hospital. With the pilot and co-pilot being highly experienced, the cause of the tragic helicopter crash is being investigated.
Helicopter Crashed Near Raton, New Mexico
The helicopter crashed around 6:00 p.m. on Wednesday, January 17, taking with it six passengers:
- Roy Bennett, the Zimbabwe opposition leader
- Heather Bennett, Roy Bennett’s wife
- Charles Burnett III, a businessman
- Jamie Coleman Dodd, the pilot
- Paul Cobb, the co-pilot
- Andra Cobb, daughter of Paul Cobb and partner of Charles Burnett III.
The six were on their way to the Emery Gap Ranch, a property near the Colorado-New Mexico border, owned by Charles Burnett III.
Sole Survivor Recounts Horror After Huey Helicopter Crash
Andra Cobb was the sole survivor of the crash, suffering broken bones. She was able to escape from the helicopter before it exploded in fire. As she phoned 911 in the moments following the crash, she told the dispatcher about the horror unfolding in front of her.
“I’m watching my family burn in a fire,” Cobb said. “I don’t know what to do. There’s a big fire. I’m covered in gasoline.”
I have just confirmed from three separate reliable sources that Roy and Heather Bennett have been tragically killed in a helicopter accident in North America. I am devastated- they were two of Zimbabwe’s greatest patriots. My condolences are extended to their family & friends.
Jaime Dodd also called 911 and told the dispatcher three people died in the accident and three survived, including himself, Cobb, and Roy Bennett. Both Dodd and Bennett, who suffered a head wound, died. One died at the scene while the other died during transportation to the hospital. While on the phone, Dodd said he broke his pelvis and was trying to escape the fire.
“She’s just very distraught,” said Martha Cobb, mother of Andra Cobb. “I’m just glad my daughter is OK, but I hate that my husband of 41 years is gone.”
Zimbabwe Politician Visiting Friends for Holidays When Helicopter Crashed
Roy Bennett was a popular politician in Zimbabwe and was seen as a passionate advocate for political change. He was imprisoned for a year and received death threats for his beliefs. He and Heather were in New Mexico to spend time with Burnett, with whom they had become friends.
The treasurer-general of Morgan Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change opposition party, Bennett was known as “one of us.” A fellow member of the Democratic Change party called Bennett’s death a “huge and tragic loss.”
“Bennett reminded me of the potential that Zimbabwe holds if its multiple races and cultures could actually break the barriers that exist between them and work together,” wrote Zimbabwean lawyer Alex Magaisa.
Sixty-one-year-old Burnett was a wealthy investor and a philanthropist. In 2009, he set a world record by driving a steam-powered car at 139.8 miles per hour.
“He had a lot of fun, and he had a lot of people around him all the time,” said Sam Middleton, a real estate broker who in 2017 helped Burnett purchase the ranch the group was headed to.
Meanwhile, Mr. Cobb flew a helicopter in the Vietnam War, where he survived having his helicopter shot down. For three decades he served as a police officer, in Pasadena, Texas. When he retired in 2004, he had risen to the role of police chief.
Dodd had experience as a search-and-rescue pilot and flew medical evacuation missions throughout the Americas. He also used his personal time to use a helicopter and rescue dogs stranded during Hurricane Katrina. Since September 2017, Dodd worked as Burnett’s private pilot.
“He was the kind of guy that you just wanted to be your friend,” said Jacqueline Dodd, wife of Jaime Dodd. “He was above reproach. He was just such a good person.”
Cause of New Mexico Helicopter Crash Under Investigation
Authorities are investigating what caused the Huey UH-1 to crash into the mountainous terrain. Martyn Hill, who knew Burnett and his friends said both Dodd and Cobb were experienced and would not have taken any chances with the aircraft. Although the temperature was low when the helicopter crashed, officials do not believe bad weather was a factor. Investigators will examine aircraft maintenance records and other factors to determine what caused the tragedy, but the investigation will likely take months.
Helicopter crash in New Mexico mountains kills 5 and seriously injures 1, police say
The helicopter was registered to Sapphire Aviation LLC, which was linked to Charles Burnett, though reports do not yet indicate how.
Cobb told the dispatcher the helicopter took off minutes before it crashed.
“I’m very, very cold,” she says. It took authorities more than an hour to locate the helicopter wreckage, which was ultimately found on a rancher’s property. Officials believe the helicopter crash caused a grass fire that burned approximately a one-mile radius around the crash site.
In fact, according to reports ranchers made it to the crash site first and were attempting to put the fire out when authorities arrived.