Colfax Sheriff’s Office, Raton Fire and Emergency Services, Colfax County Fire District #8, NM Game and Fish and State Police all responded to a helicopter crash southeast of Raton Wednesday evening, January 17 about 6:00 pm. The chopper was carrying six passengers, and, according to NM State Police, five were killed with the other seriously injured. The lone survivor, 39-year-old Andra Cobb, was the daughter of the co-pilot Paul Cobb. from staff, media reports
RATON, N.M. — A leader of an opposition party in Zimbabwe and four other people died in a helicopter crash near the New Mexico-Colorado border, according to federal and state agencies. Six people were on board the chopper when it went down roughly 15 miles east of the Raton Municipal Airport sometime around 6 p.m. Wednesday, January 17 FAA spokesperson Lynn Lunsford said.
New Mexico State Police Lt. Elizabeth Armijo said Thursday that the pilot, 57-year-old Jamie Coleman Dodd, of Trinidad, Colorado; the co-pilot, 67-year-old Paul Cobb, of Conroe, Texas; 61-year-old Charles Ryland Burnett, of Houston; and Bennett’s wife, 55-year-old Heather Bennett; also died in the crash.
Roy Bennett — a member of the Movement for Democratic Change Party in Zimbabwe — was among the deceased on the private Huey helicopter. The group was heading to Emery Gap Ranch, a property that Bennett bought last year. One person on board survived the crash but has serious injuries, Armijo said. The Associated Press reports the survivor is Andra Cobb, who is Burnett’s girlfriend and Paul Cobb’s daughter.
One of the victims called a 911 dispatcher in Raton to report the crash but was not sure where the helicopter went down. Several agencies began looking for the wreckage, but Armijo said the terrain made it difficult.
“Response was slow due to the area being extremely remote with rugged terrain and limited road access,” she said. “Wreckage was spotted in a rancher’s property east of Raton. A grass fire had burned the area of approximately a mile radius around the crash site.”
When officers found the site, Armijo said the helicopter was engulfed in flame. They initially found three deceased people at the site of the crash, while two of the men were alive in critical condition. One later died at the scene while the other died while being airlifted to a hospital.
Armijo said the helicopter left Raton after fueling at the Raton Airport and was bound for Folsom, about 37 miles away. So far, investigators do not know what caused the aircraft to crash.
As an MDC-T Party member, Roy Bennett was jailed in 2004 for assaulting a cabinet minister and again in 2009 for campaigning against former Zimbabwe dictator Robert Mugabe. When Bennett was released, he fled to South Africa where he was given political asylum. Nelson Chamisa, a co-vice president for the MDC-T Party, expressed his sadness on Twitter.
Initially, several international media organizations had erroneously reported the crash occurred in Canada. The National Transportation Safety Board is leading the investigation into what caused the crash. Here’s more about the prominent people on board:
CHARLES RYLAND BURNETT III, 61 Born in England, Burnett was an investor and philanthropist with links to a wide range of businesses. Burnett was based in Houston and listed as an officer in dozens of companies registered with the Texas secretary of state’s office. The Guardian newspaper reported in 2009 that he drove a steam-powered car at an average speed of 139.8 miles per hour (225 kilometers per hour), setting a world record. He purchased the Emery Gap Ranch, a sprawling, mountainous property on the Colorado-New Mexico border, in February 2017. He was in a long-term relationship with Andra Cobb, the only survivor of the crash and daughter of Paul Cobb, who was the co-pilot of the helicopter. Burnett was friends with the elder Cobb and the others aboard.
PAUL COBB, 67 He was shot down while flying a helicopter in the Vietnam War, according to his wife, Martha. He went on to serve as a police officer for three decades in the Houston suburb of Pasadena, Texas, rising to police chief until his retirement in 2004. Cobb flew a historic Vietnam-era helicopter during an event to celebrate the Fourth of July in 2016, according to Houston television station KTRK. Martyn Hill, Burnett’s personal attorney, described Cobb as an experienced, cautious pilot who had “survived many battles.”
JAMIE COLEMAN DODD, 57 He was a decorated search and rescue pilot who plucked people to safety in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina and during one flood season, rented a helicopter on his day off to help rescue dogs stranded on rooftops. J.C., as he was known as, received the national “Jeep Hero” award in 2006 for his search and rescue efforts. He donated the award, a new Jeep Commander, to a nonprofit organization that helps the homeless, according to the website of the New Mexico Military Institute, where he went in the mid- to late 1970s. He had worked as Burnett’s private pilot at the Emery Gap Ranch, He enlisted in the Marine Corps Reserves in 1979. Dodd transferred to the Army’s Warrant Officer Flight School in 1983 and was later assigned to Howard Air Force Base in Panama, flying medical evacuation missions throughout Central and South America, according to New Mexico Military Institute website. Dodd moved back and joined the California Highway Patrol in 1990, where he was a search and rescue helicopter pilot. He was inducted into the institute’s Hall of Fame in October 2010.