ATLANTA — Federal investigators have determined the deadly crash of an Atlanta police helicopter more than a year ago was likely because the pilot was flying too low and was unable to see a power pole and wires during a search for a missing child.
After a 16-month investigation, the National Transportation Safety Board determined the probable cause of the Nov. 3, 2012 accident that killed two officers in a report released this week.
"Witnesses reported observing the helicopter at a very low altitude with the search light on maneuvering near the intersection of two city streets," the NTSB report states. "Witness statements indicated that, as the helicopter neared the intersection, the landing gear skids collided with wires at the top a 42-foot power pole."
The chopper went down and then burst into flames as the officers searched for a 9-year-old boy who had run away.
The pilot, 48-year-old Richard J. Halford, and 40-year-old tactical flight officer Shawn A. Smiley were killed.
Radar data was consistent with statements from the witnesses, who observed the helicopter flying at a very low altitude, the report indicates. The last three recorded radar returns showed the helicopter flying about 200 feet above ground level, the NTSB's investigation determined.
The Atlanta Police Department had no immediate comment on the report Saturday, a spokesman said.
The aircraft was about 45 years old, but had been completely refurbished within the last decade and its pilot and maintenance crew were confident it was safe to fly, city officials had said shortly after the crash.
An examination of the helicopter's airframe found no evidence of malfunctions or failures that would have prevented normal operation, the NTSB's report states. The investigation also suggests that the engine never lost power before impact, the agency said.
Weather conditions observed at the Fulton County Airport just west of the area included a clear sky, calm wind and visibility of 10 miles or greater, the NTSB noted in an earlier report.