- Associated Press - Sunday, November 4, 2012

ATLANTA (AP) — A police helicopter flying low over Atlanta on a nighttime search for a missing 9-year-old boy plunged to the ground in a neighborhood of shops and apartments, killing the two officers aboard, authorities said Sunday.

Both officers died on impact in the crash about 10:30 p.m. Saturday, but no one was hurt on the ground, police spokesman Carlos Campos said. The crash occurred in a district near heavily traveled Interstate 20 filled with fast-food restaurants, shopping plazas and apartments where utility lines bristle overhead.

The National Transportation Safety Board has investigators at the scene and planned an update later Sunday. The wreckage of the OH-6A helicopter was moved to a secure location as investigators worked to piece together what happened, said Eric M. Weiss, NTSB spokesman.

Records with the Federal Aviation Administration showed the helicopter was a Hughes OH-6A, manufactured in 1967. The Hughes historically has been a military workhorse.

A photograph aired on a local TV newscast showed what appeared to be flaming debris in a roadway. The helicopter fell in an area roughly four miles west of downtown Atlanta. Power was blacked out to a pharmacy and other nearby businesses, and a utility crew was seen apparently working to restore electricity.

“It appeared to hit the utility wire on the way down,” Mr. Campos told The Associated Press, citing preliminary information. But he emphasized, “We don’t know what caused it,” and referred all queries to federal investigators.

Authorities said the helicopter was in the air after police received a report around 9 p.m. Saturday of a 9-year-old boy who had run away from his home after being disciplined by his mother. The boy was found just before 1 a.m., unharmed, and was turned over to his parents.

Bystander Darryl James, 42, told the AP that he had gone with a companion to a check-cashing store Saturday night when he heard the helicopter flying overhead and thought it was rather low.

“The tail end went down, and then there was an explosion,” Mr. James said. He said he tried to get close to the wreckage. “As soon as I got close enough to it, poom! It exploded.” He added of the helicopter’s occupants, “They could not survive it.”

Mr. James said people often are waiting at a normally busy bus stop near the crash site, adding, “Thank God nobody was out there.”

After the crash, fire trucks and police cars with lights flashing converged on the area, blocking surrounding roads. Police put up yellow crime scene tape and kept bystanders so far back they were unable to see the crash site behind a small rise. The names of the dead were withheld early Sunday while relatives were notified, police said.

Meanwhile, Atlanta’s police force was mourning.

“Losing an officer is the most difficult thing a police chief can face,” Atlanta police Chief George Turner said in a news release. “Losing two is an unthinkable tragedy. Our hearts go out to the families of these officers and our thoughts and prayers are with them.”

He called it a difficult day for the Atlanta force and “a reminder of their bravery and the sacrifices made by our officers every day.”

Police said the helicopter was called in to join the search after police received a report shortly after 9 p.m. of a missing child. Mr. Campos said the boy was later found unharmed, but he had no further details on that search.

Story Continues →