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Four killed in state helicopter crash in Madera County identified [Updated]

January 5, 2010 |  6:43 pm

Three state biologists and a contract pilot died today when their helicopter crashed in rugged terrain in the Sierra foothills in Madera County, authorities said.

The Bell 206 copter clipped a large electrical transmission line and crashed, spraying debris across a  quarter-mile area, the Madera County Sheriff's Department said.

The California Department of Fish and Game, which employed the biologists, released their names. They are: Clu Cotter, 48, of Fresno; Kevin O'Connor, 40, of Bakersfield; and Tom Stolberg, 32 of Fresno.

[Updated 7:43 p.m.: A previous version of this post reported incorrectly that Cotter was 40 years old and O'Connor was 48.]

The agency identified the pilot as Dennis "Mike" Donovan.

"We are deeply saddened by the loss of our esteemed colleagues," said John McCamman, director of the department.

The crash, which occurred around 12:15 p.m, was witnessed by two U.S. Forest Service officers who were about 100 yards away, the Sheriff's Department said.

The biologists were surveying deer in the Sierra National Forest.

Federal investigators were responding to the scene.

-- Robert J. Lopez