Skip to main content

Three Texas Biologists Die in Helicopter Crash During Aerial Sheep Survey

Three Texas Biologists Die in Helicopter Crash During Aerial Sheep Survey

Texas Parks & Wildlife

Tragedy struck the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department on Saturday, Aug. 8, 2020, when three agency employees died in a helicopter crash in the rugged terrain of southwestern Texas.

TPWD stated in a news release that the crash victims included wildlife biologist Dewey Stockbridge, fish and wildlife technician Brandon White, and state wildlife veterinarian Dr. Bob Dittmar. The pilot, a private contractor, survived the crash according to TPWD, and was transported to El Paso for further treatment.

Dittmar, who along with Stockbridge was a Texas A&M University graduate, was reportedly set to retire from both TPWD and his private practice at the end of the month. He was an expert on chronic wasting disease as the Lone Star State continues to battle the fatal deer disease.

Following the death of the three men, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott issued a statement concerning their loss: "Our hearts ache today for those who died in this tragic accident. Cecilia and I are deeply saddened by this loss and we extend our sympathies to the families and loved ones of the victims. I ask all Texans to keep these families in their thoughts and prayers."


The crash took place as the biologists were doing annual aerial survey work for the desert bighorn sheep herd located within TPWD’s Black Gap Wildlife Management Area in Brewster County.


All were working on behalf of the agency’s ongoing desert bighorn sheep restoration efforts, a successful project chronicled in a recent article by the Texas Parks and Wildlife magazine.

A part of the Chihuahuan Desert, one of TPWD's stated goals for the Black Gap WMA area is "…to provide suitable habitat for the re-introduction of desert bighorn sheep." Historically, the agency notes that as many as 1,500 desert bighorn sheep lived in West Texas. But numbers declined greatly by the end of the 19th Century and efforts to restore their population began as early as 1903.

texas crash
Texas’ Black Gap Wildlife Management, site of fatal helicopter crash on Aug. 8.

In the century-plus since then, desert bighorns have slowly been rebounding in the area, including at the rugged Black Gap WMA where sheep imports from Arizona, Mexico, and Nevada have helped rebuild the herd. According to TPWD, the population is doing well after the long and arduous road to recovery, so much so that the wild sheep have expanded their range onto surrounding private properties on both sides of the Rio Grande, as well as into nearby Big Bend National Park.

The loss of the three biologists was a difficult one to quantify according to TPWD executive director Carter Smith.


"No words can begin to express the depth of sadness we feel for the loss of our colleagues in this tragic accident," he said in a news release. "These men were consummate professionals, deeply liked and highly regarded by their peers and partners alike for the immense passion, dedication, and expertise they brought to their important work in wildlife management and veterinary medicine.

"Wildlife conservation in Texas lost three of its finest as they so honorably and dutifully carried out thier calling to help survey, monitor and protect the bighorns of their beloved west Texas mountains. We will miss Dewey, Brandon, and Dr. Bob deeply and dearly.

"All of us at the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department send our deepest condolences and sympathies to the Stockbridge, White, and Dittmar families in the wake of this devastating tragedy and continue to pray for the health and recovery of the pilot."


Since 1919, TPWD says 19 Texas game wardens have lost their lives in the line of duty, the most recent in 2008. But it is unknown exactly how many biologists have perished down through the years as they worked for the agency.

A search of the TPWD website shows that the last biologist lost in the line of duty was Wes Littrell, who passed away in May 2010 after he was involved in a tractor-related accident at the Gus Engeling WMA, where he worked near his Athens, Tex., home.

Tragically, that very WMA in Anderson County is named for Gus Engeling, another TPWD employee who died while working. Engeling, both a game warden and a biologist for the agency, was murdered by a duck poacher in Anderson County in 1951 near the current site of the WMA bearing his name. The poacher was apprehended, convicted of murder and eventually received the death penalty for his crime.

While there’s no word yet about what may have caused Saturday’s fatal helicopter crash, TPWD indicates that the Texas Department of Public Safety, the Federal Aviation Administration and Texas Game Wardens are currently investigating the accident.

Further details about the accident’s investigation will be shared with the public when they become available.

As of this writing, there’s no word on pending funeral arrangements for the TPWD employees who died in the crash or where donations in their memory can be made.

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Recommended Articles

See More Recommendations

Popular Videos

P-Line Copolymer Topwater Fishing Line

P-Line Copolymer Topwater Fishing Line

Get the inside info on the new topwater-specific fishing line; ICAST Fishing Gear Guide.

Rapala OG Slim 6

Rapala OG Slim 6

The 2019 Bassmaster Classic champ Ott Defoe sits down with In-Fisherman Associate Publisher Todd Ceisner, to talk about Rapala's new OG Slim 6 crankbait. The OG Slim 6 will feature a flat-sided, balsa body, and will dive around 6 feet. Featuring a circuit board lip, the OG Slim 6 deflects off of cover better than traditional plastic lips. Offered in 14 colors and available in tackle stores Fall 2020. MSRP $10.99.

How to Drift Rivers for Summertime Catfish

How to Drift Rivers for Summertime Catfish

While anchoring up is a good way to catch summertime catfish, so too is floating the current line on a local river. As Jeff Williams explains on this episode of Outdoors with Ole Pops, it's as easy as finding fish with your electronics, pinpointing the action with a Garmin Panoptix LiveScope, and dropping the right rig of a weight, circle hook and Team Catfish Fiber Nugget down below. Just remember, the strikes can be subtle even when you're watching the live action, so don't miss!

To learn more and to purchase Team Catfish and Wohali tackle, click here to visit their website.

Hobie Pro Angler 14 With 360 drive

Hobie Pro Angler 14 With 360 drive

Human-powered serious fishing kayak; ICAST Fishing Gear Guide.

See More Popular Videos

Trending Articles

In need of a rugged container to sip from in the backcountry? We've got you covered. From tumblers to bottles to flasks (and even clever bottle openers), we've rounded up some of the best bar gear for the outdoors.Ultimate Outdoor Bar Gear Roundup The Deck

Ultimate Outdoor Bar Gear Roundup

Chelsie Walters and Jessyca Sortillon - August 31, 2020

In need of a rugged container to sip from in the backcountry? We've got you covered. From...

Field Skills: Want to be a better shooter? The first step is perfecting your release.6 Steps to the Perfect Trigger Pull on Your Compound Bow Hunting How-To

6 Steps to the Perfect Trigger Pull on Your Compound Bow

Jace Bauserman - August 27, 2020

Field Skills: Want to be a better shooter? The first step is perfecting your release.

Here are the 10 most common spinning and baitcaster reel performance problems and how to fix them.10 Most Common Reel Performance Problems Fishing How-To

10 Most Common Reel Performance Problems

Anietra Hamper

Here are the 10 most common spinning and baitcaster reel performance problems and how to fix...

Almost anyone can catch a bunch of small catfish. Hooking a true monster requires a different level of preparation, skill and effort.A Time for Giant Catfish Catfish

A Time for Giant Catfish

John N. Felsher - August 24, 2020

Almost anyone can catch a bunch of small catfish. Hooking a true monster requires a different...

See More Trending Articles

More News

Fake websites pretending to sell licenses have increased as state DNRs move to online fulfillment.Beware of Internet Hunting and Fishing License Sales Scams News

Beware of Internet Hunting and Fishing License Sales Scams

Andrew McKean - September 15, 2020

Fake websites pretending to sell licenses have increased as state DNRs move to online...

The pulse of the American outdoors remains strong, as recent surveys show people continue to enjoy the hunting and fishing pursuits.State of the Outdoor Union: Improving and Strong News

State of the Outdoor Union: Improving and Strong

Michael R. Shea - September 21, 2020

The pulse of the American outdoors remains strong, as recent surveys show people continue to...

November's elections now promise to set the direction for all three branches of government and voters concerned about protecting Second Amendment rights have much more at stake.Supreme Court Vacancy Amplifies Importance of #GunVote News

Supreme Court Vacancy Amplifies Importance of #GunVote

Larry Keane - September 22, 2020

November's elections now promise to set the direction for all three branches of government and...

On a virtual town hall event with firearm and ammunition industry leaders, U.S. Rep. McCarthy shared a story of a recent trip to a big box retailer.House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy Offers Election Insights to Firearm Industry News

House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy Offers Election Insights to Firearm Industry

Matt Manda / NSSF - September 24, 2020

On a virtual town hall event with firearm and ammunition industry leaders, U.S. Rep. McCarthy...

See More News

Magazine Cover

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save

Digital Now Included!

SUBSCRIBE NOW

Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services

PREVIEW THIS MONTH'S ISSUE Arrow

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Phone Icon

Get Digital Access.

All Game & Fish subscribers now have digital access to their magazine content. This means you have the option to read your magazine on most popular phones and tablets.

To get started, click the link below to visit mymagnow.com and learn how to access your digital magazine.

Get Digital Access

Not a Subscriber?
Subscribe Now