National News

Zimbabwe opposition party leader killed in New Mexico crash

Posted January 18, 2018 9:55 p.m. EST

— Zimbabwe opposition party leader Roy Bennett died Wednesday in a helicopter crash in a remote area in northeastern New Mexico, authorities said Thursday.

Four other people, including the pilot and co-pilot, also died in the crash, New Mexico State Police said.

One passenger, who suffered serious injuries, is expected to survive, state police said.

Bennett, 60, was listed as a resident of Colorado and South Africa. The other victims were identified as Bennett's wife, Heather Bennett, 55, of Colorado; pilot Jamie Coleman Dodd, 57, of Trinidad, Colorado; co-pilot Paul Cobb, 67, of Conroe, Texas, and Charles Ryland Burnett, 61, Houston.

The group first flew from Houston on Wednesday evening to the Raton Airport in New Mexico, northeast of Santa Fe, CNN affiliate KOAT reported.

They boarded a helicopter from Raton bound for Folsom, New Mexico, before crashing several miles east of Raton, according to authorities.

One victim managed to call 911, but couldn't relay the exact location of the crash. Law enforcement responded and began searching for the downed helicopter. But the rugged terrain and limited road access hampered the response, said state police

Ranchers eventually spotted the helicopter, which was engulfed in flames. The fire charred the victims' bodies, making it difficult to identify them, authorities said.

Bennett, a founding member of the Movement for Democratic Change, was a charismatic and popular grass-roots leader, a party national spokesman said in a statement.

Known as Pachedu, Bennett was also a successful farmer in Chimanimani, a mountainous region in eastern Zimbabwe, said Obert Chaurura Gutu, the spokesman.

"His work with the local farming communities in Chimanimani district is very well documented and he was also a renowned philanthropist who assisted hundreds of local villagers with school fees for their children and other necessary requirements to look after their families," Gutu said.

He said Bennett was "a resolute and committed fighter for democratic change in Zimbabwe."

"This monumental tragedy is a deep wound that will never heal," Gutu said.

The Federal Aviation Administration is investigating cause of the crash.