Zimbabwe opposition leader among 5 killed in NM helicopter crash | KOB 4
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Zimbabwe opposition leader among 5 killed in NM helicopter crash

J.R. Oppenheim
January 18, 2018 07:50 PM

RATON, N.M. -- A leader of an opposition party in Zimbabwe and four other people died in a helicopter crash near the New Mexico-Colorado border, according to federal and state agencies.

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Six people were on board the chopper when it went down roughly 15 miles east of the Raton Municipal Airport sometime around 6 p.m. Wednesday, FAA spokesperson Lynn Lunsford said. Roy Bennett -- a member of the Movement for Democratic Change Party in Zimbabwe -- was among the deceased on the private Huey helicopter

New Mexico State Police Lt. Elizabeth Armijo said Thursday that the pilot, 57-year-old Jamie Coleman Dodd, of Trinidad, Colorado; the co-pilot, 67-year-old Paul Cobb, of Conroe, Texas; 61-year-old Charles Ryland Burnett, of Houston; and Bennett's wife, 55-year-old Heather Bennett; also died in the crash.

The group was heading to Emery Gap Ranch, a property that one of Roy Bennett's friends bought last year. One person on board survived the crash but has serious injuries, Armijo said. The Associated Press reports the survivor is Andra Cobb, who is Burnett's girlfriend and Paul Cobb's daughter.

MORE: "She's just very distraught," Andra Cobb's mother tells AP

MORE: Crash claims Texas investor, decorated pilots

One of the victims called a 911 dispatcher in Raton to report the crash but was not sure where the helicopter went down. Several agencies began looking for the wreckage, but Armijo said the terrain made it difficult.

"Response was slow due to the area being extremely remote with rugged terrain and limited road access," she said. "Wreckage was spotted in a rancher's property east of Raton. A grass fire had burned the area of approximately a mile radius around the crash site."

When officers found the site, Armijo said the helicopter was engulfed in flame. They initially found three deceased people at the site of the crash while two of the men alive in critical condition. One later died at the scene while the other died while being airlifted to a hospital.

Armijo said the helicopter left Raton and was bound for Folsom about 37 miles away. So far, investigators do not know what caused the aircraft to crash.

Dusty Longwill, the manager at the Raton airport, fueled the helicopter before they took off.

"They were all in good spirits," he said. "You know, most people come out here to come play and vacation or go hunting, so everyone's usually good to get out of city life and come out to the country and have a good time."

As an MDC-T Party member, Roy Bennett was jailed in 2004 for assaulting a cabinet minister and again in 2009 for campaigning against former Zimbabwe dictator Robert Mugabe. When Bennett was released, he fled to South Africa where he was given political asylum.

Nelson Chamisa, a co-vice president for the MDC-T Party, expressed his sadness on Twitter. 

"I'm devastated as I have just received tragic news about Roy Bennet [sic] and wife's involvement in a helicopter crash," Chamisa tweeted.

Opposition leader Tendai Biti also tweeted "what a blow to our struggle."

Initially, several international media organizations had erroneously reported the crash occurred in Canada. Chamisa also tweeted the incorrect information.

The National Transportation Safety Board is leading the investigation into what caused the crash.

Jen French and Kassi Nelson contributed to this report.

Credits

J.R. Oppenheim

Copyright 2018 KOB-TV LLC, a Hubbard Broadcasting Company. All rights reserved

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