In one of the most shocking police accidents of the year, an Atlanta Police helicopter lost control and fell out of the sky while clipping power lines at the corner of Martin Luther King and H.E. Holmes Drive on Saturday evening, November 3, 2012. The 2 officers piloting the helicopter died at the fiery scene. New reports suggest that the helicopter was to be replaced 10 years ago due to age.
The officers that were killed, have been identified as Richard J. Halford of Lithia Springs and Shawn A. Smiley of Lithonia. Funerals will be held on Friday and Saturday.
Officer Richard J. Halford of Lithia Springs, age 48, joined the APD in May 1986. He had been with the Air Unit for more than 16 years, serving as a pilot. Officer Halford has also served in the Department’s Zone 4 precinct, the Motors and DUI units. He is survived by his former wife, and a 21-year-old daughter.
Officer Shawn A. Smiley of Lithonia, age 40, joined the APD in October 2010. He had been with the Air Unit since earlier this year, serving as a tactical flight officer. He previously served in the Department’s Zone 2 precinct. He is survived by his wife and three children, ages 5, 7, and 9.
Witnesses in the area immediately began posting pics on Twitter and Instagram of the scene last night, as dozens of law enforcement and fire department agencies swarmed to the location to try to help their fallen brothers.
According to Carlos Campos, Public Affairs for APD, "shortly after 9 p.m. Atlanta Police Department officers responded to a report of a missing child at 1855 Joseph E. Boone Blvd. N W." The helicopter was dispatched to help with the search and canvassing.
Around 10:30 p.m., witnesses reported that the helicopter crashed to the ground at Hamilton E. Holmes, near Martin Luther King Jr. Drive. Both officers on board were killed on impact.
Trust funds have been set up to benefit the officers' families through any Wells Fargo bank location. Contributions may be made in the name of the officers beginning at noon on Monday. Funeral arrangements will be announced.
The accident is under investigation by the FAA and the National Transportation Safety Board. The AJC is reporting that, "eleven years ago, the APD requested $2.8 million from the City Council to replace the Hughes OH-6 that crashed Saturday night, as well as a Bell Jet Ranger helicopter also operated by the department, saying they “have outlived their useful lives of 25 years.” Documents show that the City Council approved $1,360,425 to replace a helicopters, but there are also FAA records that show both aircraft still being used by APD. A question to be answered after the grieving period will be, "what happened to the money for the new chopper?"
APD Chief of Police, Chief Turner and Mayor Kasim Reed released the following statements about the incident and the officers:
"Losing an officer is the most difficult thing a police chief can face," said Chief George Turner. "Losing two is an unthinkable tragedy. Our hearts go out to the families of these officers and our thoughts and prayers are with them. This is a difficult day for the APD family and it is a reminder of their bravery and the sacrifices made by our officers every day."
"I am deeply saddened by the terrible accident that claimed the lives of two on-duty Atlanta Police Department officers," said Mayor Kasim Reed. "We mourn these two brave men and offer our deepest condolences to their families and loved ones. We also pause to extend our sympathy to the men and women of the police department who place their lives in harm's way every day to keep our city safe, and who especially feel the pain of this loss."
As pedestrians and residents began to leave their houses Sunday morning and drive by the scene, all that is left is a large charred black mark on the road where the helicopter crashed. Georgia Power crews were also working to repair the downed power-lines that occurred with this accident. One City of Atlanta employee that was on the scene with the Waste Department early Sunday morning, told me, "the mess was huge. There was debris all over this street and parking lot. I just can't believe something like this happened right here."
Our hearts and prayers go out to the APD, fellow co-workers, and the families of Officer Halford and Officer Smiley.