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Helicopter crash kills pilot battling Polles Fire near Payson

PHOENIX — A pilot working to help suppress the Polles Fire near Payson has died after his helicopter crashed Tuesday afternoon, authorities said.

During a press conference Tuesday, night, Gila County Sheriff Adam Shepherd identified the deceased as 37-year-old Bryan Boatman.

His remains were recovered and are en route to a medical examiner’s office.

Boatman is survived by his wife and 8-year-old child.

According to authorities, the crash occurred at 12:22 p.m. while Boatman was working to supply firefighters on the ground with equipment.

Boatman had been employed by Glendale-based Airwest Helicopters.

Tuesday evening, Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey announced he had ordered flags at all state buildings lowered to half-staff from sunrise to sunset on Wednesday.

“This tragic loss is a reminder of the ever-present dangers faced by those battling wildfires,” Ducey said in the release.

“As a helicopter pilot, Bryan Boatman was carrying out a service to the people of Arizona alongside the men and women fighting the Polles Fire. He performed his duty with honor and bravery, and it will be remembered as such by our state.”

Around 4 p.m. Pine-Strawberry Fire District firefighter Stacy Figueroa posted online that Chief Gary Morris had confirmed the death of the pilot.

“The helicopter crash was just north of the fire, outside the fire lines,” Figueroa said.

“They did have to bring in other air attack to put it out. There was only one person on the helicopter. Sadly he didn’t make it. His family has already arrived in Payson.”

She added that the deceased pilot was not local but did belong to a family of firefighters, including his father who had retired from an unnamed Valley department.

According to Federal Aviation Administration Communications Manager Ian Gregor, the helicopter was a UH-1H model and went down about 10 miles west of Payson.

Gregor added the FAA and National Transportation Board will investigate the crash and the NTSB will try to determine the cause of the crash.

The lightning-caused wildfire started Friday and grown to 580 acres by Tuesday morning, according to InciWeb.

The fire has been burning within the remote Mazatzal Wilderness’ rugged terrain that is only accessible by helicopter, authorities said.

Four hotshot crews were airlifted Monday into the area of the wildfire to aid suppression efforts.

The Polles Fire currently poses zero threats to the nearby communities of Payson or Pine-Strawberry, but authorities are encouraging residents to be familiar with the state’s Ready-Set-Go evacuation program.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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