Police helicopter pilot’s body recovered from Coosa River after Friday crash into Lake Mitchell
The bodies of two people from Columbus who died in a helicopter crash in Alabama’s Coosa River have been recovered, and the pilot’s identity has been released.
The Columbus-based Metro Narcotics Task Force helicopter crashed around midday Friday after striking a power line in the Lake Mitchell portion of the Coosa River, in central Alabama’s Chilton County.
“We are coming back from Alabama where the bodies have been removed from the helicopter after the crash on Friday. We’ve touched base with all family members now and this is the end of a long weekend,” Columbus Police Chief Ricky Boren said Sunday afternoon during a brief news conference at the Columbus Airport.
Accompanying him at the airport were Muscogee County Sheriff Donna Tompkins, Russell County Sheriff Heath Taylor and Harris County Sheriff Mike Jolley. All four law enforcement officials are board members of the Metro Narcotics Task Force, which used the downed helicopter in their anti-drug operations.
Boren identified the pilot of the aircraft as David Hall, 53, who retired in July after working 28 years with the Columbus Police Department. He was at the controls of the Bell OH-58 helicopter that went down in Lake Mitchell, just east of Interstate 65 and Clanton, Ala., and north of Montgomery, Ala.
“It went down with two occupants on board and this afternoon around lunch time divers were able to retrieve both bodies, which were still in the aircraft,” the police chief said. “Officer Hall has been positively identified by us. The second individual we’re waiting on identification from family members.”
Boren declined to say why the passenger was aboard the helicopter, which was being taken to a maintenance and repair company in Clanton and being swapped out with another Metro Narcotics Task Force aircraft that had already received maintenance. He said identification of the passenger will come later.
“Every so many hours you have to have maintenance done on an aircraft, and this was just the routine maintenance it has to have on it,” Jolley said at the news conference.
The National Transportation Safety Board and the Federal Aviation Administration, both agencies that were on the crash scene, will be investigating the accident and issuing findings in the future.
“We believe that it struck a (power line) wire that went across the river, a low-hanging wire that was not marked at the time, and as the helicopter was apparently ascending over there from some area, it hit this wire and the helicopter went down in the river,” Boren said.
Hall, a graduate of Jordan High School and Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, began his career with the Columbus Police Department in 1990 and served for 28 years, which included a break for about two years in 2004. After retirement, he remained a pilot of the helicopter and other aircraft used by the Metro Narcotics Task Force. He also was a recruiter for the police department.
“It’s bad, especially for the law enforcement family in this area,” Boren said. “We had hired several officers that he had recruited from the area for the department. He was known to everybody on the metro board. He had done flight services for everybody on the metro board, and he’s going to be a loss to our department.”
Although the crash took place around midday Friday, the recovery operation that included the Chilton County Sheriff’s Department was not easy and extended into Saturday. It then was called off after dark Saturday due to treacherous conditions with the river’s current. The aircraft’s fuselage was located roughly 70 feet below the waterway’s surface.
Columbus Mayor Teresa Tomlinson, after receiving word from Boren of the bodies’ retrieval from the helicopter, expressed “great sorrow” on her Facebook page at the loss of Hall and the death of his passenger. She said they will be missed by those who knew them.
“Our hearts go out to those who are suffering with this loss,” she said. “The Lord heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds. (Psalms 147:3). May you find peace in the joy of the life you shared.”