The three people killed were identified as biologist Dewey Stockbridge, wildlife technician Brandon White and veterinarian Bob Dittmar, according to a Texas Parks and Wildlife Department press release on Sunday.
“No words can begin to express the depth of sadness we feel for the loss of our colleagues in this tragic accident,” said Carter Smith, managing director of TPWD, in the statement.
“These men were accomplished professionals who were valued and valued by their colleagues and partners alike for the immense passion, dedication and expertise they brought to their vital work in wildlife management and veterinary medicine,” he said.
The helicopter pilot, a private contractor, survived the crash and was reportedly taken to a hospital in El Paso. TPWD has not released any information on the cause of the crash.
The group flew over TPWD’s Black Gap Wildlife Management Area in Brewster County to survey the desert bighorn sheep. The area borders Big Bend National Park and extends over 100,000 acres, according to the TPWD.
Texas wildlife officials were instrumental in restoring desert bighorn sheep numbers after the population declined due to disease and unregulated hunting, according to TPWD, which estimated the population of the Texas bighorn at 1,500 in 2018.
Stockbridge worked on the conservation of the species for several years. In 2016, he spoke about the importance of herd management in an interview with Outside Magazine.
“If you reintroduce desert bighorn to a landscape like Elephant Mountain here, it really is a trickledown effect,” he said. “There are numerous other species that benefit from being reintroduced into certain mountain ranges.”
Officials conduct aerial photography year round to monitor population size and observe animal behavior.
Dittmar came to TPWD in 2014 as the agency’s first vet, according to the agency. He was previously involved in various projects at the agency and in private practice in Kerrville, northwest of San Antonio.
“My wife tells everyone that I will make sure that my grandchildren and great-grandchildren have wildlife in the future,” Dittmar said in a 2014 interview with TPWD. “I’ll do my part.” Make sure our wildlife populations are healthy and look at them from a veterinary perspective rather than a purely management and biological perspective. “
The Texas Department of Public Safety, the Federal Aviation Administration and the Texas Game Wardens are investigating the crash.
“Our hearts ache today for those who died in this tragic accident,” said Greg Abbott, Texas governor.