ATLANTA (AP) — The Atlanta police helicopter that crashed and killed two officers on board had been completely refurbished within the last decade, and its pilot and maintenance crew were confident it was safe to fly, officials said Monday.
The 45-year-old chopper went down on a busy city street late Saturday while the officers were searching for a 9-year-old boy who had run away. The helicopter hit a power line pole, and part of its landing gear got tangled up in cables before the rest of it plummeted to the street.
What those upgrades entailed was not immediately available. The department had a newer chopper, but Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed said the veteran pilot who had been flying for 16 years preferred the older model because it was easy to maneuver.
Officials also said the helicopters often helped search for runaways.
"This is a routine call that an air unit would respond to," said Deputy Chief Renee Propes, who added police helicopters are dispatched for a variety of reasons, including tracking stolen cars. Three helicopters remain in the fleet, including the one purchased new in 2002 for $1.4 million at the department's request, officials said.
The helicopter that crashed was given to the agency in 1994 by the military. Another one was given by the National Guard in 2009; a third was bought in 1987.
It was not yet known if the fallen officers had been using night vision, though Propes said pilots often rely on their sight alone, even at night.
Darryl Kimball, who runs the website policehelicopterpilot.com and flew for more than five years with the San Diego County Sheriff's Department, said it's not necessary to use night vision over a well-lit city.
"You get away from the city lights at nighttime, in any aircraft … helicopters flying low over dark areas can be dangerous," Kimball said.
The air unit has been temporarily grounded, in part to give fellow officers time to grieve for the pilot, Richard J. Halford, 48, and 40-year-old tactical flight officer Shawn A. Smiley.
Smiley had his commercial license and was considered a "rising star" in the air unit, Propes said. Halford's funeral is set for Friday; Smiley's is Saturday.
The Georgia State Patrol and DeKalb County authorities have agreed to provide air assistance in the meantime if it's needed.
Kimball, the former police pilot, said it was not uncommon for him to respond to reports of missing people, including children and the elderly. He also said the helicopter's age wasn't cause for alarm. Well-maintained helicopters can remain in service for decades as long as parts are replaced when they need to be.
Federal Aviation Administration regulations generally state that all aircraft must maintain an altitude of at least 1,000 feet in congested areas, but helicopters are given wide latitude.
A fact sheet on the FAA website about low-flying aircraft complaints says: "Further, the helicopter's increased use by law enforcement and emergency medical service agencies requires added flexibility in the application of many FAA provisions."
Kimball said pilots and their observers tend to be cautious when it comes to any sort of power lines. When he flew missions, they would call out any lines they spotted in the cockpit.
"Every helicopter pilot knows wires kill helicopters," he said. "I would be surprised if they were intentionally flying that low."
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This Week’s Celebrity Instagrams (11/26-12/2)
30 photos Launch gallery
1. Little Legend and Puddy 😍😍😍😍
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2. "You on point Phife?" "all the time,Tip". 💥 #bannedfromnormal
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3. Vegan! The Impossible burger at Crossroads
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4. Lawrence #BeforeandAfterEpisodes 1-4: 184lbs 13% body fatEpisode 8: 196lbs 8% body fat S/O @coachdaveboxing with the works outs and @kildareriordan with the nutrition
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5. Jus haaaanngin out
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6. Meanwhile back at home in Atlanta GA someone mad they not on the 🛳. 😳
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7. No limits... Photo cred: Chris Bridges @ludacris
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8. new new
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9. Apparently my 260lbs is too much for the actual vines in the Hawaiian jungles to hold me without breaking and me falling hundreds of feet. So for safety purposes, I'm forced to swing thru #Jumanjj on wires strong enough to hold 12 adult buffaloes and 1 adult Rock. #OnSet #Jumanji #IronicallyIEatBuffaloDailyForLunch #MoreManThanNatureKnowsWhatToDoWith
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10. hey ma! 🎎#wcw 💙
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11. Surprise visit to our factories!!! #GoodAmerican #USA
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13. Peachy Keen 🔥✨⚡️
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14. If this don't look thankful I don't know what does. Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours. #UltraBlessed #24kMagic #SweetPotatoFly
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15. Late nights @nbcmarlon with the writers... we in here!!!
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16. There goes my baaaaaaaaabbbbyyyyy #QueenKingMagic!!! We're up to something! Ira BIG!!! Stay out our buisness -
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17. You want to win every game you play but when you come home to these faces... who cares. #ILoveYouGirls best part of my day, everyday!
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18. Steady,steady..... full size jenga.. "I got this one "???? Or do I ?
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19. Cornrows kind of day 😉@dontaysavoy2 you convinced me and I love. ❤️️
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20. #BrotherlyLove #tbt
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22. #basel #TeamLOVE @kingcombs
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23. Just introduced a special screening of @directher 's groundbreaking (must see) documentary @13thfilm with my brother @themichaelealy | @unitedblackout #blackoutblackfriday
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24. Me & Vanessa Williams giving #DuckLips #Pose on the set of #DaytimeDivas @vh1 - Coming Soon to a tv near you. Lol. - My make up done by @makeupsurgeon
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25. This picture just makes me wanna praise the Lord, you hear me!!!!!! Yes Lord brotha #TEDDYCAMPBELL What a #man !!! You are everything right on this picture husband ......... #gorgeous #stylish #classy #strong #masculine #king #sexy #debonair #gentlemenstyle And that #bible in your hand just seals the deal for me (probably cause i know that, that is what helped you become just as amazing as you look😘). While my heart and mind experiences the goodness of God at #church on Sundays, my eyes experiences the goodness of Teddy😍. Amen somebody🙌🏽. "Bless the Lord oh my soul and all that is within me bless his holy name" #myman #myhusband #goodman #blackman #dapperman #godlyman #goodfather #mybestfriend
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26. Yesterday was my mama's 53rd birthday!!!!! Got to celebrate with her all day. If this is what I have to look forward to I can't wait. Looking like a soft bucket a cocoa butter. Yaaaaaaaaaas! 😍😍😍 love you mommy!
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27. "Shout out to @PureAtlanta for getting the family right"....I'm loving this jogger. 😍😍
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28. This pic warms my heart ❤️ #myLogiebeans and aunt aunt umba @itowandabraxton 😘
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29. You will always be my baby😜. #HappyBirthdayReginae #mybaby18
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30. GC "Gods Child" Red on Red SweatSuit available now at www.MonicaApparel.com ... Take Your Crown wherever you go!! I'm pictured in a Medium... Go to the site now for other options ... cc: @trukernell
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