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Pilot dead after helicopter fighting Slave Lake fires crashes

A pilot is dead after Bell 212 helicopter fighting fires in northern Alberta crashed into a lake Friday afternoon.

The helicopter went down just before 3 p.m. local time into shallow water about 30 metres off the south shore of Lesser Slave Lake, emergency crews say. There was no one else aboard.

Other crews rushed into the water to try and save the pilot, who was pronounced dead at the scene. An air ambulance dispatched from Grande Prairie, Alta., was turned around.

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Several fire workers were treated for hypothermia after rushing in the lake.

It's too soon to say what caused the crash, RCMP Sergeant Tim Taniguchi said.

"No idea. Too early to tell," he said.

The helicopter is sitting in about four feet of water, TSB spokesman John Cottreau said. "TSB investigators are preparing to deploy to the crash site right now," he said Friday evening.

The region, known as the Southshore, was evacuated last weekend due to the fire threat, which engulfed much of the area. The fire is still out-of-control, and has burned 18,190 hectares. It's one of two major fires that threatened the region, forcing the evacuation of rural areas and the city of Slave Lake, about 22 km east of the crash site, last weekend.

The helicopter was one of about 120 fighting 59 fires burning in the province.

It was owned by Campbell Helicopters, based out of Abbotsford, B.C., the TSB confirmed, but under contract to the Alberta government. More than 500 B.C. wildfire personnel have been deployed to Alberta, according to a B.C. government press release.

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Premier Ed Stelmach issued a statement shortly after the crash, saying "My heart goes out to the family of the helicopter pilot...Today's tragic news drives home the reality that the brave men and women fighting the fires in Alberta put their lives on the line every day to keep Albertans and our communities safe."

Alberta Sustainable Resource Development Minister Mel Knight, whose department oversees forest fire efforts in the province, also extended his condolences to family members of the pilot, whose name hasn't been made public.

"This is a sad loss for everyone in Alberta. Our hearts and prayers are with the pilot's family and friends," Mr. Knight said in a written statement Friday evening. "What a terrible way to be reminded of the courage our wildfire fighters display by being on the front lines for all of us."

With a file from Tim Alamenciak

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