Mayor: 'We are all hurting' over loss of officers killed in helicopter crash



ATLANTA - Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed spoke for the first time Monday about two Atlanta police officers who were killed late Saturday night when their police helicopter crashed while searching for a missing child.

Reed held a news conference Monday afternoon where he announced funeral arrangements for Officers Richard Halford, 48, and Shawn Smiley, 40.

Reed also said that he met with both victims' families and promised full support for them during this difficult time.

"We are going to rally around the families of these officers in a manner that is consistent with the best of us," Reed said. "What we want is every police officer and every member of the Atlanta Fire and Rescue to remember, to know is that when you risk your lives for the people of this city, when you get up in the morning and put yourself in harm's way on our behalf, that you should never worry for a moment in the event that you don't make it home, that the people that you love the most in the world are going to be supported by the city of Atlanta."

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.

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.
Smiley joined APD in 2010 and joined the air unit earlier this year. He left behind a wife and three small children.
Reed said both men leave a great loss not only for the police department, but for the city as a whole.

"We are all hurting. You literally can feel it in the building. You can certainly feel it when you look into the eyes of the family who lost their loved ones," Reed said. "Our city is quiet today in honor of the people that risk their lives for us and who fell into harm's way."

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.

Halford will be laid to rest Friday at 11 a.m. at the Jackson Memorial Baptist Church.

Smiley will be laid to rest Saturday at 11 a.m. at the First Baptist Church of Atlanta.


Remembering the fallen officers

Monday, officers who trained with officers Smiley and Halford spoke to Channel 2's Carl Willis.

Willis met with some of their fellow officers at the Zone 4 precinct, where the men said they had a deep connection with Smiley and that Halford worked in the same zone in 1986.

His fellow officers said Shawn Smiley was a man full of passion and drive. From the day he set out on his journey to become a part of the Atlanta Police Department, his counterparts said, he knew he wanted to fly in the air unit known as Phoenix.

"That is exactly what he wanted to do from day one at the academy. I remember him talking about it; he wanted to go over to Phoenix. I know the day he found out about it, I know he felt completed," Atlanta police Officer Harry Davis said.

Davis and Officer Kevin Moody said they met Smiley at the police academy and graduated with him in June 2011. They said the 40-year officer who had served in the Navy always wanted to be a tactical flight officer.

"I know he did that to the very last minute, and just helping someone out too, you know," Moody said.

Christopher Williams said he met Halford when he was a senior on Tuskegee's football team. He said the 16-year member of APD's air unit will be missed.

"You saw nothing but joy. One of the best individuals I ever met in my life," Williams said.

Those who knew the officers said they will celebrate their lives and cherish their moments together.

"I'm glad I got to spend the time I did with him, and I'm going to honor that instead of just mourning his life," Davis said.


Did helicopter "outlive its usefulness?"

Ever since the crash happened late Saturday night, many questions have been raised about the helicopter officers Smiley and Halford were flying in.

Channel 2's Shae Rozzi learned Monday the Atlanta Police Department declared the chopper the two officers were flying in had "outlived its' usefulness" when the department asked the city council for money to replace it.

Smiley and Halford were flying in 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 chopper was supposed to be replaced in 2001, but it was refurbished instead.

Monday, Councilman Michael Bond asked police administrators why the chopper had not been replaced.

"We know they had confidence in this helicopter. The helicopter they were flying was nicknamed 'Old Faithful' but we want to make sure this never happens again," Bond said.

Eleven years ago city officials had said the chopper had outlived its usefulness and the police department requested more than $2 million to replace it.

Council approved just more than a million dollars and a new chopper was purchased.

Reed said the chopper that went down was fully refurbished, not replaced, in 2005, and has continued to be properly maintained.

"We spent a substantial amount of money refurbishing our helicopter and that one of the most experience helicopter pilots felt comfortable using that helicopter and we trusted his judgment," Reed said.

Halford, who was piloting the helicopter Saturday night, had more than 3,000 flying hours and Smiley was considered a rising star.

Atlanta police stressed to Rozzi that the crew was the best of the best and they would not have flown in the chopper if they didn't feel safe.

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