Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Supervisors cool to helicopter • Need versus risk weighed at Tuesday work session

Reluctant Cochise County Supervisors were not convinced that the Sheriff’s Office needs a helicopter, despite an offer from the Buffet Foundation to purchase and pay for the aircraft. 

At a work session meeting Tuesday, Supervisor Ann English said the risks of operating a helicopter outweigh the benefits to the Sheriff’s Office.

“I cannot support the acquisition or accept the gift of a helicopter,” English said.

Patrol Commander Mark Genz, who headed the previous Sheriff’s Department helicopter program, said the aircraft proved to be valuable before it crashed on New Year’s Eve, killing the pilot and a passenger.

The previous program began in May, 2013, with the Sheriff’s Office patrolling the county from the air for 30 hours a month. All costs associated with leasing, insuring and operating the helicopter were paid for by the Howard G. Buffet Foundation, a philanthropic organization with holdings in Willcox.

Genz said the helicopter proved useful after a water main break occurred between the Huachuca Mountains and Tombstone.

“We got a call that the water main broke and there was no water coming into Tombstone, so we called out the helicopter and within 15 minutes spotted exactly where the problem was,” Genz said.

The helicopter also speeded the transfer of election ballots to Graham County when Cochise County ballot-counting equipment malfunctioned.

Other instances Genz referred to included rescuing a hiker with a broken leg who was lost in the Chiricahua Mountains, capturing a homicide suspect in the Sierra Vista area and taking aerial photographs of a murder scene in the Sunsites area.

“One thing we know is that when the helicopter is up there, the bad guys are going to hunker down. They’re less like to run if they know there is a helicopter above them,” Genz said.

He said there were two incidents during the sheriff’s operation of the helicopter.

In September, 2014, a mechanical error caused the engine to quit and the helicopter had a “hard landing,” which “destroyed,” the aircraft, Genz said. He said the malfunction was caused when a fuel line was not properly secured.

On Dec. 31, 2014, after a major overhaul of the helicopter was completed in Glendale, the helicopter crashed near Benson during a peculiar winter snow storm.

Genz said during the work session that the aircraft was not equipped with a radar altimeter and there is a possibility that the pilot did not know the helicopter was close to the ground when it struck trees and crashed.

In May, Genz said, the Sheriff’s Department was approached about starting a new helicopter program, with one major change from the previous program.

“This time, we would own the helicopter,” Genz said.

The Sheriff’s spokesman said he has been trying to find a company that would provide insurance, a pilot and perform maintenance on a new helicopter, but hasn’t had much luck.

“Turns out there aren’t many companies out there that are doing this, providing for everything,” Genz said.

Supervisor Richard Searle questioned the monthly cost of operating the helicopter, recalling it was “… around $100,000.”

Genz said all costs are covered by the foundation, but that he was aware it cost $83,000 for 30 hours of operation, and that did not include the fuel costs.

Genz said the new helicopter is estimated to cost about $3.8 million, and if the county decided after three years to discontinue the program, it could sell the helicopter as an asset.

Supervisor Pat Call said more information is needed on the county’s liability. He also said he was not sure about the need.

“We’re looking a gift horse in the mouth. Having a foundation that has helped this county already so much, is impressive,” Call said.

Instead of a helicopter, Call said he knows the sheriff wants “more boots on the ground,” to bolster his department with another three or four deputies.

Genz said he did not think funding for more deputies would be amenable to the Buffett Foundation.

“Day-to-day, hour in, hour out, we can use more deputies,” Call said. “I’m not arguing the value of a helicopter, but I’d like to see Sheriff Dannels have that conversation with the foundation.”

Genz assured board members that he would return to the Sheriff and foundation representatives to discuss the liability concerns held by supervisors, and would raise the question of hiring more deputies with the grant — instead of buying and operating a helicopter.

Original article can be found here:

Bell 206-L4,  N57AW, Cochise County Sheriff's Department:   Accident occurred  December 31, 2014  in  Benson, Arizona  

NTSB Identification: WPR15FA072
14 CFR Part 91: General Aviation
Accident occurred Wednesday, December 31, 2014 in Benson, AZ
Aircraft: BELL 206, registration: N57AW
Injuries: 2 Fatal.

This is preliminary information, subject to change, and may contain errors. Any errors in this report will be corrected when the final report has been completed. NTSB investigators either traveled in support of this investigation or conducted a significant amount of investigative work without any travel, and used data obtained from various sources to prepare this aircraft accident report.

On December 31, 2014, at 1710 mountain standard time, a Bell 206 L4, N57AW, collided with terrain 7 miles west of Benson, Arizona. The commercial pilot and pilot rated mechanic were fatally injured, and the helicopter was destroyed. The helicopter was registered to N57AW LLC, and operated by Airwest Helicopters as 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91 positioning flight. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed for the flight, which operated on a company visual flight rules flight plan. The flight originated form Glendale, Arizona, at 1550, and was destined for Sierra Vista, Arizona.

The operator reported that the helicopter had not arrived at its destination and that the Sky Connect Tracking System indicated that the helicopter was at a stationary location between Tucson and Benson. The Cochise County Sheriff located the helicopter wreckage about 2030 at the location the Sky Connect system was reporting. The helicopter was fragmented into multiple pieces along a 174-foot-long debris path. Witnesses living in the local area reported hearing a low flying helicopter around the time of the accident, and that the visibility at ground level was very limited, with low clouds and fog.

Jeff Steele was killed in a helicopter crash in southern Arizona on New Year's Eve. He was a retired Glendale police officer. 
Courtesy Glendale Police Department

Bell 206L LongRanger IV, N64AW, Cochise County Sheriff’s Department: Accident occurred September 12, 2014 in Tombstone, Arizona 


NTSB Identification: WPR14LA374 
Nonscheduled 14 CFR Part 135: Air Taxi & Commuter
Accident occurred Friday, September 12, 2014 in Tombstone, AZ
Aircraft: BELL 206, registration: N64AW
Injuries: 2 Uninjured.

This is preliminary information, subject to change, and may contain errors. Any errors in this report will be corrected when the final report has been completed. NTSB investigators may not have traveled in support of this investigation and used data provided by various sources to prepare this aircraft accident report.

On September 12, 2014 about 1115 mountain standard time, the pilot of a Bell 206L4, N64AW, initiated a forced landing onto a gravel road following a partial loss of power near Tombstone, Arizona. The helicopter was registered to and operated by Airwest Helicopters LLC under the provisions of Title 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 135. The commercial rated pilot and one passenger were uninjured; the helicopter sustained substantial damage to the tail boom. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed and a company visual flight rules flight plan was filed. The flight originated from Sierra Vista Municipal Airport – Libby Army Airfield, Sierra Vista, Arizona at 1050 for a local flight.

The pilot reported that during cruise flight the helicopter's RPM suddenly started to decrease, he reduced power and initiated a forced landing. During the approach to land the engine lost complete power and the helicopter impacted the ground hard. Subsequently, the helicopter's skids spread and the main rotor blade severed the tail boom.

The helicopter was recovered to a secure location for further examination.

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