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New Mexico helicopter crash survivor recalls fleeing blasts

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The sole survivor of a New Mexico helicopter crash last month that killed five people, including key Zimbabwean opposition leader Roy Bennett, recalls that the aircraft hit the ground with a loud bang before rolling forward, stopping upside down and bursting into flames.

Andra Cobb, of Texas, told federal investigators that the wreck ignited a fire, which set off explosions on a grassy mesa top east of Raton. Jet fuel poured onto the 39-year-old before she was able to free herself from her seat belt and escape the helicopter, she said.

She got away before the explosions began, and was able to call 911.

Cobb’s account of the Jan. 17 crash was included in a National Transportation Safety Board report released Tuesday.

The preliminary report does not indicate what may have caused the crash, and a full investigative report isn’t expected to be released by the NTSB for months.

The crash claimed the lives of Bennett, his wife, Heather, wealthy businessman Charles Burnett III, pilot Jamie Coleman Dodd and co-pilot Paul Cobb. All were travelling together to spend time on a ranch owned by Burnett.

Burnett was Andra Cobb’s longtime partner, and the co-pilot was her father.

In a 911 recording obtained by The Associated Press, Cobb frantically told authorities that she “was watching her family burn in a fire.” Authorities said she suffered broken bones.

The NTSB report confirmed that the weather was clear the night of the crash, and that Dodd, the pilot, had thousands of hours of flying experience.

The pilot also was able to call 911 before he later died. He told authorities immediately after the crash that there were three victims and three survivors — him, Andra Cobb and Roy Bennett, who was suffering from a head wound as authorities tried to determine their location.

Officials launched a search but said the response was slow because of the rugged terrain and lack of access.

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