2 Dead after Cochise County Sheriff's Office helicopter crashes near Benson

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Jeff Steele By Christina O'Haver Jeff Steele By Christina O'Haver
Marc Hensen By Jennifer Thomas Marc Hensen By Jennifer Thomas
Marc Hensen By Jennifer Thomas Marc Hensen By Jennifer Thomas
By Christina O'Haver By Christina O'Haver
By Christina O'Haver By Christina O'Haver

BENSON, Ariz. -- Two people died in a helicopter crash in southern Arizona on Wednesday.
A spokeswoman with the Cochise County Sheriff's Office said Cochise Air was returning to the Sierra Vista airport after routine maintenance in the Phoenix area. Cochise Air is leased by the Sheriff's Office for use in law enforcement and public safety missions.
Carol Capas said contact with the helicopter was lost around 7 p.m. and a search and rescue team was sent to find the aircraft.
The Benson Fire Department found the wreckage around 9:20 p.m. outside of Benson. The pilot and a mechanic were found dead.

The Glendale Police Department said the pilot was former police officer Jeff Steele. He retired in June 2011 after 25 years of service, holding the positions of patrol officer, K-9 handler, SWAT operator, motor officer and senior motor instructor.

"Jeff was a great guy," said Glendale Police Sgt. David Vidaure. "He was always smiling, he was always laid back, and you could tell just by the assignments that he had ... Jeff was always ready to be out there in the front and to be the lead. When we heard of Jeff's death last night and for some things morning, it was like losing one of our own family members."

Steele's wife still works for the Glendale Police Department.

"Jeff's passing has been felt deeply across our department," Glendale Police Chief Debora Black said in a statement. "Since his retirement, he has held close ties with the department and has countless of close friends still here. He will be greatly missed. Our thoughts and condolences are with not only Jeff's family, but also with those of the mechanic on board."

The mechanic has been identified as 51-year-old Marc Hansen. He was also a trained pilot.

Capas said as part of the lease for the helicopter, a pilot and mechanical crew are assigned to the Sheriff’s Office in a civilian capacity.

"This news leaves me personally, and this organization with a heavy heart because of the tragic loss of two incredible lives," Sheriff Mark Dannels said in a statement emailed to 3TV. "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."

The National Transportation Safety Board was notified about this incident and is conducting an investigation with the assistance of the Sheriff’s Office.