Fla. sheriff says he asked county for new helicopters years before fatal crash
The exact cause of the crash is unknown, but the helicopter fell out of the sky after an in-flight fire, killing a Broward Sheriff’s Fire Rescue captain and civilian
By Shira Moolten
South Florida Sun-Sentinel
POMPANO BEACH, Fla. — Broward Sheriff Gregory Tony had asked the county for new helicopters years before the fatal crash Monday that killed two people, he said at a news conference Tuesday afternoon. Now, after a verbal agreement from the county, two new helicopters are on the way.
The Airbus Helicopter EC 135T-1 helicopter, one of only two paramedic helicopters operated by BSO, had an engine fire in flight, a pilot told investigators, plummeting into an apartment building in Pompano Beach Monday morning and killing a Broward Sheriff’s Fire Rescue captain and a woman on the ground. Four people were injured.
“This is the result of not just one administration, whether it be BSO or the county government,” Tony said Tuesday. “This is how things have operated in government here in this county for too long, in that tragedy strikes, and then we respond.”
The exact cause of the crash remains unknown, but the helicopter fell out of the sky after an in-flight fire, the National Transportation Safety Board said in an update Tuesday. A pilot reported both a left engine failure and an engine fire during flight.
NTSB investigators were on the scene Tuesday, examining the wreckage and speaking to witnesses as cranes began to lift the wreckage from the building. The wreckage was taken to an offsite facility, according to the NTSB, where investigators will continue to analyze it, including examining the engines.
The Sheriff’s Office and the county had a “multitude” of conversations about replacing the current helicopters over the last three years, Tony said. In June, he said, he again raised concerns about the state of the helicopters.
“Listening back to my statements in June, you probably heard more of an awareness tone,” he said, “Of, hey, we need to get this done, because eventually the aircraft are not going to be capable of flying, and the risk factor of one falling out of the sky is too great. Now it’s happened.”
Spokespeople for the county did not immediately return voicemails left late Tuesday afternoon.
The Fire Rescue captain, Terryson Jackson, and his crew were responding to a car crash in North Lauderdale when the helicopter plummeted out of the sky. He was trapped in the wreckage and could not get out, said Tony.
The woman who died was a resident of the apartment building. Carey Codd, a spokesperson for BSO, said the Medical Examiner’s Office was working to identify her Tuesday.
The Sheriff’s Office is “down an aircraft” and “tripling up inspections,” Tony said Tuesday, but now, two state-of-the-art H145 helicopters are on the way after talks with Broward Mayor Lamar Fisher and Airbus, the helicopter manufacturer. A contract had fallen through with a different buyer, and Airbus reached out to him.
“With this tragedy, an opportunity presented itself,” Tony said. Now, they’re waiting on a cost estimate, which he says they should get by the end of the week.
Ideally, Tony said, the Sheriff’s Office will get six helicopters, not just two. The total cost for all six would be about $60-$70 million, or about $10-$12 million per helicopter.
Tony also posthumously promoted Jackson to Battalion Chief on Monday.
Jackson “was known for his affable personality and his forever willingness to help,” Debra White, a manager for Broward Sheriff’s Office Chaplain Services, wrote in an email to the department. “He was praised by his supervisors for exceeding expectations and his initiative to accomplish tasks.”
Jackson is survived by his mother, father, son, daughter, and siblings. His brother, Cleavone Brooks, is also a sergeant within the department, according to the email.
Brooks did not respond to a voicemail Tuesday afternoon.
Residents of the one-story, eight-unit building where the helicopter crashed were evacuated Monday after the NTSB declared the building a crime scene. It will be closed for at least 72 hours, after which Pompano Beach will send a structural engineer to determine if it is safe for residents to return, according to city spokesperson Sandra King.
The Red Cross is housing residents in need of shelter, but did not say where.
“Our hearts are with the families and loved ones who have been impacted by this tragic incident,” the organization said in a statement Tuesday. ” … the American Red Cross is coordinating with local officials and the Broward Sheriff’s Office to offer immediate assistance, mental health support and spiritual care to all the families affected as they process their emotions during this difficult time.”
The NTSB will release a preliminary report about the crash in two to three weeks.