Tragedy struck Atlanta over the weekend when a police helicopter crashed and exploded, killing both of the officers onboard who were participating in a search from the air for a missing nine-year-old boy who was later found.
Apparently the helicopter was flying too low, trying to get a good view of the neighborhood, before it hit a power line pole and plummeted to the ground on a bust street near shopping plazas, fast-food restaurants and a gas station.
Atlanta police spokesman John Chafee said yesterday that the little boy was found a couple of hours after the crash—after running away because he was scolded by his mother.
The deceased officers are pilot Richard J. Halford, 48, of Lithia Springs, who had been with the department for 26 years, and Shawn A. Smiley, 40, of Lithonia, a tactical flight officer who joined the department two years ago. Both men were fathers—Smiley had three children under the age of 10.
“Every day, they provided air support for our officers, assisting in major events and searches for suspects and missing persons,” Atlanta Police Chief George Turner said in a news release. “Their value to our citizens and our officers on the street is incalculable.”
Atlanta police spokesman Carlos Campos said trust funds have been set up at Wells Fargo bank locations to help them.
“It’s sad. It’s tragic … for someone to lose their lives trying to find a kid, trying to keep another family together,” Rodney Christian, 22, told the Associated Press as he stood with a crowd of people gathered at the scene early in the morning Sunday.
“It makes me want to rush home and get back to my kid,” said Christian, who has a 1-month-old baby.
The NTSB had already moved the wreckage of the OH-6A helicopter to a place where investigators can figure out what happened, according to Eric M. Weiss, a spokesman with the National Transportation Safety Board.
The power company had to help remove part of the helicopter’s landing gear from the cables.
“They saw the aircraft, they heard the aircraft, and then they saw a flash of light when it hit the pole and then it crashed into the roadway,” investigator Ralph Hicks said of the witnesses interviewed by the NTSB.
Records with the Federal Aviation Administration showed the helicopter was a Hughes OH-6A manufactured in 1967, a helicopter long used by the military.
Bystander Darryl James, 42, told the AP he had gone with a companion to a check-cashing store Saturday night and heard the helicopter flying overhead. He said he thought it seemed lower than usual.
“The tail end went down and then there was an explosion,” James said. He said he tried to get close to the wreckage. “As soon as I got close enough to it, poom! It exploded.”
Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed said in a statement that he was saddened by what he called a “terrible accident.”
“We mourn these two brave men and offer our deepest condolences to their families and loved ones,” Reed said.