LYTTON, B.C. - Mounties said Sunday that a helicopter pilot who was helping fight one of British Columbia's many forest fires when he crashed into a river is believed to have died.

Robert Christopher Woodhead, 53, of Stoney Creek, Ont., was operating a Bell 212 with a water bucket Friday afternoon when the aircraft went down in the Fraser River near Lytton.

"We have met and spoken to the family," said RCMP Cpl. Dan Moskaluk.

"It is believed that Mr. Woodhead perished in the river."

Woodhead was last seen in the water just after the crash by another pilot who was flying overhead.

That pilot watched from the air as Woodhead's chopper went down and tried to save him by lowering a line and bucket into the water. The rescue attempt proved unsuccessful.

Moskaluk said search crews have recovered Woodhead's flight helmet, as well as pieces of debris from the helicopter, but they have yet to find his body.

"In incidents of this nature, with the incertitude of the person's fate, it leaves all in a suspended state of deep grief," he said.

"Our thoughts, along with those of all British Columbians, whose lives and homes were protected in this and in past fire seasons by the courageous efforts of ground firefighters and the pilots assigned to battling these blazes are with the Woodhead family at this time."

Woodhead's family in Stoney Creek weren't making any public statements.

Woodhead's helicopter was owned by Alberta-based Elbow River Helicopters.

Torrie Chartier, the company's general manager, wasn't commenting.

"It is under investigation by the Transportation Safety Board and the RCMP and they will release the information," she said.

A Transportation Safety Board spokesman was not immediately available for comment.

Woodhead was contracted to work on the 12-square-kilometre Intlpam fire. The blaze was first discovered on July 25 and is believed to have been caused by lightning.