UPDATE: Bodies of victims in helicopter crash recovered

Published 7:31 pm Friday, November 16, 2018

By J.R. Tidwell / Editor

11-18 UPDATE:

According to Sheriff John Shearon on Nov. 18, “Both victims have been recovered and have been transported to the coroner’s office. Federal law requires an autopsy. They will be transported to the Alabama Department of Forensic Sciences for that process. Our prayers continue to go out to the families of the victims. Our extreme gratitude goes out to the many volunteers and agencies that assisted over these three days as well as the property owners on the lake who opened their homes to us.”


11-17 UPDATE:

According to Assistant Chief Deputy Shane Mayfield with the Chilton County Sheriff’s Office, “We had better visibility today. We were able to get a digital mapping of the aircraft and establish a down line from the surface to the aircraft itself. However, while the river current was not an issue yesterday afternoon, a strong current did impede a successful recovery today. We are currently working with Alabama Power to utilize the dam system to mitigate the current. Our prayers are with those families affected by this crash. It is certainly not by choice that we have to wait another night. Everyone worked as hard as possible throughout the day for a successful recovery, but Mother Nature is a formidable opponent.  Dive operations were suspended at nightfall and will resume in the morning.”



A helicopter used by multiple law enforcement agencies in Alabama and Georgia crashed into a section of the Coosa River in Verbena around noon on Nov. 16.

Two people, one pilot and one passenger, were killed in the crash, according to Assistant Chief Deputy Shane Mayfield of the Chilton County Sheriff’s Office.

A retired officer who still worked part time as a pilot for the Columbus Police Department in Columbus, Georgia, was piloting the helicopter, a Bell OH-58. CCSO has used the same make of helicopter in the past.

The aircraft was used by the Metro Narcotics Task Force, which is made up of five agencies: the Columbus Police Department (Georgia), Muscogee County Sheriff’s Office (Georgia), Harris County Sheriff’s Office (Georgia), Russell County Sheriff’s Office (Alabama) and Phenix City Police Department (Alabama).

According to Mayfield, the helicopter was on its way to the Chilton County Airport to be serviced. The aircraft had no known mechanical issues.

It was flying over the Coosa River, where it is believed to have hit a power line causing the crash.

“There is a power line down in the area of the crash,” Mayfield said. “By assumption based on witness statements, we believe it struck a power line.”

Two fishermen and two other eyewitnesses on land observed the crash.

“One of the fishermen had the presence of mind to put a buoy in the water where he saw the helicopter go down,” Mayfield said. “That’s why we were able to find it so quickly.”

The crash occurred just north of the mouth of Cargile Creek near County Road 553.

According to Mayfield, there were no signs of life after the crash. The helicopter ended up under 70-plus feet of water.

“We found some debris and clothing from the helicopter,” he said. “We found some ID in a wallet that we believe matches the pilot. The wallet was found by one of the fishermen, who actually helped us by taking us out on the water in his boat (until police craft arrived). There were a lot of good people helping us out doing the right thing. There has been quite a lot of that today.”

At first it was believed that the pilot was the only occupant in the helicopter, but now law enforcement believe that there was a passenger on board as well.

“We believe (the pilot) picked up a flight student in Auburn,” Mayfield said.

Authorities were able to recover the body of the pilot, but one other seat in the crashed helicopter remained filled as of the night of Nov. 16.

According to Mayfield, the surface temperature of the water at the time of the crash was 43 degrees. The temperature was 10 degrees lower where the helicopter sunk.

“We are in a holding pattern now until it is daylight again,” he said. “We are expecting to recover one more body. It breaks our heart to leave someone down there, but we can’t justify risking the life of someone else (in the dark.)”

He said if authorities had any reason to believe the other passenger as still alive, further efforts would have been made even in nighttime.

The divers have around 30 minutes of air, and due to the depth the helicopter they have to make multiple stops due to the pressure both on the way down and coming back up.

“They only get three or four minutes at the bottom,” Mayfield said.

The recovery effort that began after the crash has involved many different law enforcement agencies, including an East Chilton marine boat, a regional dive team, officers from Elmore, Autauga, and Coosa counties as well as the cities of Montgomery, Prattville and Pelham.

An Alabama Law Enforcement Agency aircraft spotted another debris field, and ALEA also had two marine police boats on scene as well.

An official with the Federal Aviation Administration was also on hand.

Mayfield said that authorities with Tallapoosa County were bringing a dipping sonar to help map the debris field.