Durango’s former fire chief and his wife, a former executive director of the La Plata County Humane Society, were killed in a helicopter crash in Arizona that likely occurred Saturday, said Dwight D’Evelyn, a Yavapai County, Ariz., Sheriff’s Office spokesman.
Mike Dunaway, 63, and Linda Dunaway, 64, were both identified as passengers on the helicopter as well as Karen Stinn, 68, of Cave Creek, Ariz. The pilot, 70-year-old Raymond Perry of Phoenix, was the owner of the private helicopter based in Scottsdale, Ariz., D’Evelyn said.
A Yavapai Sheriff’s Office ground crew confirmed the deaths, D’Evelyn said.
Dave Imming, spokesman for the Durango Fire & Rescue Authority, said Sunday evening, “Chief Dan Noonan and the Durango Fire & Rescue family are saddened by the loss of retired Fire Chief Mike Dunaway and his wife, Linda.”
The helicopter took off Saturday from Scottsdale before crashing into the Verde River, about six miles south of Camp Verde, D’Evelyn said.
Ian Gregor, a spokesman for the Federal Aviation Administration, told The Arizona Republic the wreckage was spotted Sunday morning by a private pilot several miles south of Camp Verde, which is about 86 miles north of Phoenix.
Gregor said an Aerospatiale AS350 helicopter took off Saturday morning from the Scottsdale Airport and was headed for Sedona, but it was reported overdue after it failed to arrive at its destination.
An Arizona Department of Public Safety Ranger helicopter arrived in the area and confirmed at least two fatalities before the Yavapai Sheriff’s ground crew reached the remote site and confirmed all four people aboard had been killed, D’Evelyn said.
“All bodies have been removed from the crash site, and the medical examiner will be taking custody,” D’Evelyn said.
The National Transportation Safety Board will take over the investigation, he said.
Mike and Linda Dunaway had been living in Glendale, Ariz., after moving from Durango about two years ago, friends of the couple said.
Both were graduates of Durango High School and longtime residents.
Mike Dunaway’s years as chief of Durango Fire & Rescue Authority were part of a 26-year-long career in fire and rescue service.
Before beginning his career with the Durango Fire Department in 1981, Dunaway volunteered with the Animas Fire Protection District.
Dunaway became chief of the Durango Fire Department in 1988 and was later named chief of DFRA in 2002, after the merger of the Durango Fire Department, the Animas Fire Protection District, the Hermosa Cliff Fire Protection District and Mercy Medical Center’s Emergency Medical Services.
During the merger, the chiefs of the Durango Fire Department, the Animas Fire Protection District, and the Hermosa Cliff Fire Protection District sat down to decide who should serve as chief of the authority.
They agreed that it should be Dunaway, Imming said.
The Missionary Ridge Fire took place during Dunaway’s first year as chief of DFRA in 2002.
“Everyone came together,” Dunaway recently told the Herald for series on the 10-year anniversary of the 72,962 acre fire. “A community is at its strongest in an emergency.”
Saturday was the 7-year anniversary of a Tri-State CareFlight helicopter crash near Mancos that killed three people on board. Dunaway spoke at the memorial for the crash, Imming said.
Linda Dunaway managed the Durango Humane Society Thrift Store for 15 years and served as executive director of the La Plata County Humane Society for two years.
“She was just very active in the humane society,” a friend of the couple said.
The Dunaways have two children and three grandchildren.
“Durango Fire & Rescue Authority is ready to do anything that is necessary to help the family during this difficult time,” Imming said.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.