ATLANTA - National Transportation Safety Board officials say it could take up to nine months to complete their investigation of a helicopter crash that killed two Atlanta Police Department officers.
Richard Halford, 48, of Lithia Springs, and Shawn Smiley, 40, of Lithonia, were killed while they were trying to find a child who was reported missing on Saturday at about 10:30 p.m.
"At some point during the flight, the aircraft struck one of the tops of one of the power poles around us right now," NTSB spokesman Ralph Hicks said at a Sunday afternoon news conference near the crash scene.
The crash happened near the intersection of Martin Luther King Drive and Hamilton E. Holmes Drive, just south of Interstate 20. Witnesses in the area said the helicopter fell out of the sky, hitting power lines on the way down.
The officers were flying a Hughes OH-6A Light 4-Blade helicopter powered by a Rolls Royce turbo Shaft engine, Hicks said. He said investigators found that the cockpit and fuselage were consumed by a post-crash fire.
The mother of the 9-year-old boy officers were looking for when the helicopter crashed said she is heartbroken over the tragedy.
Amire Shakir Fulford said she's relieved that her son, Javare was found safe and sound, but she is saddened by the loss of Halford and Smiley.
"I just want to tell their families I am so sorry and all I can do is cry," Fulford told Channel 2's Tony Thomas.
She said her son ran away after being suspended from school. She called police and several officers began searching, including the Phoenix Unit, one of two Atlanta police helicopters.
"We (saw) the helicopter flying around looking for him, then next thing we know we heard alot of ambulances," she said.
A witness also told Channel 2 Action News what she saw.
"I noticed something falling from the sky. It hit the power line and it hit the ground. I jumped out my car and ran because I was really close to it," Ravien Walker said. "As soon as it hit the ground, it exploded immediately. It could have fell right down on top of my car."
On Sunday morning, a stained Hamilton E. Holmes Drive memorializes the spot Fulford said she cannot take her eyes off of.
"It will be very important because they put their lives on the line because the put their lives on the line and they can't go home," she said. "I just feel so responsible for all of this. I just wish I could change everything," Fulford said.
According to a biography provided by Atlanta police, Halford joined the force in 1986. He had been with the department's air unit for more than 16 years, serving as a pilot. Halford also served in the police department’s Zone 4 precinct, the Motors and DUI units. He is survived by his former wife, and a 21-year-old daughter.
Smiley, who is survived by his wife and three children, ages 5, 7, and 9, joined APD in October 2010. He had been with the department's air unit since earlier this year, serving as a tactical flight officer. He previously served in the department’s Zone 2 precinct.
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.