Helicopter crash claims Texas investor, decorated pilots
RATON, N.M. (AP) — Five friends, including a Zimbabwean opposition leader, traveling to a ranch in New Mexico died when their helicopter crashed in a remote area. 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 and a love of entertaining friends extravagantly.
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, said Sam Middleton, a real estate broker in Lubbock, Texas, who worked with Burnett on the purchase. That’s where the group was headed Wednesday.
Middleton on Thursday recalled being invited to Burnett’s 60th birthday party at another ranch he had helped the wealthy businessman purchase. A dance floor and lights powered by a generator were set up on a pasture, with guests brought in by bus and a film crew hired to document the party.
“He had a lot of fun, and he had a lot of people around him all the time,” Middleton said.
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.”
“He was a great person as well,” Hill said.
Martha Cobb said her daughter told her after the crash that she passed at least one body on the ground as she tried to escape, before the helicopter burst into flames.
“She’s just very distraught,” Cobb said in a telephone interview, her voice breaking. “I’m just glad my daughter is OK, but I hate that my husband of 41 years is gone.”
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.
“He was a natural pilot. He was so good at it. When he was in search and rescue, he saved countless lives,” said Jacqueline Dodd, his wife of 25 years, describing him as an adrenaline junky.
Her husband, who went by J.C., 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 was the kind of guy that you just wanted to be your friend,” Jacqueline Dodd said. “He was above reproach. He was just such a good person.”
Since September, he had worked as Burnett’s private pilot at the Emery Gap Ranch, she said. She and her husband filed separation papers in December after he moved to Trinidad, Colorado, the previous September.
“He took that job against all my wishes,” said Jacqueline Dodd, who lives in Applegate, California, in the foothills northeast of Sacramento.
Her husband 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.
ROY AND HEATHER BENNETT
Roy Bennett, 60, was a founding member of Zimbabwe’s main opposition party, Morgan Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change, who angered former President Robert Mugabe by winning a parliamentary seat in a rural constituency despite being white.
Bennett, who spoke fluent Shona, was earthy and engaging and won a devoted following of black Zimbabweans for passionately advocating political change. He was known as “Pachedu,” meaning “one of us” in Shona and was often called the sharpest thorn in Mugabe’s side.
At one point, his successful coffee farm in eastern Zimbabwe was seized by war veterans. One of Bennett’s farmworkers was killed by the invaders and wife Heather miscarried after the assault.
In 2004, Bennett was jailed for a year for assaulting a Cabinet minister who had said Bennett’s “forefathers were thieves and murderers” during a debate. He emerged thin and told of prisoners’ mistreatment.
Bennett fled Zimbabwe after receiving death threats but came back in 2009 after being nominated for the deputy agriculture minister in a coalition government with Mugabe’s ZANU-PF party. The strongman accepted other opposition leaders into his Cabinet, but he refused to swear in Bennett.
Bennett later returned to South Africa but remained a vocal critic of Mugabe’s rule.