NTSB to begin investigation into fatal APD helicopter crash



ATLANTA - A special investigation team should be in Atlanta Monday to look into a fatal helicopter crash that killed two officers from the Atlanta Police Department.

Investigators with the National Transportation Safety Board said they believe a collision with power poles caused the police helicopter to crash.

They said that was based on witness statements and evidence near the intersection of Hamilton E Holmes Drive and Martin Luther King Junior Drive.

"We do have evidence that the aircraft did strike the support cables of the tops of the poles, and about one half of the landing gear remained at the top of the pole," said NTSB investigator Ralph Hicks.

Atlanta police said officers Richard Halford, 48, and Shawn Smiley, 40, were assisting in a search for a missing child when their mission was cut short. The child was later found safe.

They were flying a 1967 Hughes OH-6A Light 4-Blade helicopter powered by a Rolls Royce turbo shaft engine. The helicopter was donated to APD by the U.S. Army in 1996 to help with the Olympics. The city requested $2 million to replace the Vietnam-era helicopter in 2001, saying it had outlived its useful life.

Hicks said the NTSB was putting together a team of specialists dealing with this specific helicopter.

He said McDonnell Douglas supports the Hughes line and would be in Atlanta Monday. He also said an investigator with Rolls Royce engines would join the team.

Channel 2’s Carl Willis learned that a surveillance camera at a restaurant near the scene may have captured the incident.

He also found witnesses at a nearby apartment building who watched the crash from beginning to tragic end.

"I heard a boom, like a bomb, and I looked out the window and flames were everywhere," said Rebecca Horne. "It scared me so bad that I panicked, because I heard another pop and I just thought it was going to explode."

Horne only had to look out of her living room window to see the devastating aftermath of the APD helicopter crash.

She is just a short walk from the scene on Holmes Drive.

As the flames burned out and dozens of officers rushed to the scene, Horne and her neighbors felt their way through the dark due to a power outage caused by the crash.

Hicks said the cockpit and fuselage were consumed for the most part by a post-crash fire.

He said all the major structural components have been accounted for.

Investigators said they hadn't heard any witness statements that suggested there were any mechanical issues. They will work with APD to gather maintenance records for the helicopter.

Investigators told Willis the aircraft did not have a cockpit voice recorder or a data recorder, but they will look for a GPS in hopes that it may have useful data.

The NTSB will publish a preliminary report in the next few days, but its complete report could take six to nine months.

Flags at the Atlanta Police Department’s headquarters remain at half-staff to honor the fallen officers, both of whom were fathers.

Halford, a 26-year veteran with APD, was a part of the air unit for 16 years. He left behind a 21-year-old daughter.

“The loss of an officer is probably the most difficult thing a chief of police has to deal with. Magnify that twice and it’s very difficult time, for not just me, but the entire Atlanta Police Department,” Chief George Turner said.

Smiley joined APD in 2010 and joined the air unit earlier this year. He left behind a wife and three small children.

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.

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