BENSON, Ariz. (AP) — The pilot who was killed in the crash of a helicopter leased by a southeastern Arizona sheriff's department was a retired police officer in a Phoenix suburb, authorities said Thursday.
The Glendale Police Department confirmed that retired Officer Jeff Steele was killed in the helicopter crash near Benson late Wednesday.
Steele retired in 2011 after what Glendale Police Chief Debora Black called "25 distinguished years of service," including work as a patrol officer, dog handler, SWAT team member and motorcycle officer.
The Cochise County Sheriff's Office said a mechanic, whose identity was not immediately released, also died in the crash, which occurred as the helicopter returned from a trip to Phoenix for routine maintenance.
The helicopter leasing company lost contact with the aircraft called Cochise Air around 7 p.m. near Benson, about 150 miles southeast of Phoenix, sheriff's spokeswoman Carol Capas said. The helicopter, a Bell 206L-4, was flying to nearby Sierra Vista in western Cochise County.
Search crews tracked the pilot's cellphone and found the crash site two hours later south of Interstate 10 outside Benson, Capas said.
The National Transportation Safety Board will investigate.
The Sheriff's Office said it planned to release additional information late Thursday.
Sheriff Mark Dannels said in a statement that the crash left him and his agency "with a heavy heart because of the tragic loss of two incredible lives. We have worked closely with this company and these two individuals since receiving Cochise Air, and knowing that they are considered part of the Sheriff's Office family makes this so much harder.
"We send our condolences out to the families of two people who will truly be missed," he said.
Earlier Wednesday, an MD-500 police helicopter crashed on a residential street near downtown Las Vegas, injuring two officers.