January 5, 2010
Madera County, California - Three Department of Fish and
Game (DFG) employees and a contract helicopter pilot died in a
helicopter crash today. They were on a routine aerial deer survey
when the crash occurred in a remote section of Madera County. An
investigation is under way into the cause of the crash.
Clu Cotter, DFG Associate Biologist, 48 years old, Kevin O'Connor,
DFG Senior Biologist Supervisor, 40 years old, and Tom Stolberg,
DFG Scientific Aid, 31 years old, all of Fresno, lost their lives
in the helicopter crash. Helicopter pilot Dennis (Mike) Donovan of Landells Aviation, also lost his life. The families of the victims
have been notified.
"We are deeply saddened at the loss of our esteemed colleagues,"
said John McCamman, director of DFG. "Our employees are like
family and this sudden loss during a routine operation has left us
stunned and with heavy hearts."
An investigation of the crash is under way and no cause of the
crash has been determined.
DFG annually conducts helicopter surveys to track trends in
California deer populations. Surveys are conducted from the air
because of cost-effectiveness compared to ground surveys, access
to remote locations and to reduce bias compared to road-based
observation. DFG has grounded all helicopter surveys and captures
until further notice.
McCamman immediately instituted critical incident counseling teams
to work with DFG staff to help them deal with the loss of their
coworkers. Many other DFG staff across the state knew Clu, Kevin
and Tom, personally, and the loss is palpable to many in the