ATLANTA (AP) — A police helicopter flying low on a nighttime search for a missing 9-year-old child crashed near a major Atlanta intersection overnight, killing the two officers aboard on impact, authorities said early Sunday.
Police spokesman Carlos Campos confirmed the deaths and said no one was hurt on the ground in an area blocks from a busy east-west artery, Interstate 20, and in a neighborhood populated by fast food restaurants, stores, a major pharmacy and a light rail commuter station. A police statement said the helicopter plunged to the ground about 10:30 p.m. Saturday.
Photographers aired on local television soon after the crash showed flaming debris in a roadway. Emergency vehicles with their lights flashing rushed to the area little more than 4 miles west of downtown Atlanta. The names of the dead were being held while relatives were being notified, police said.
"Losing an officer is the most difficult thing a police chief can face," Atlanta Police Chief George Turner said in an early morning statement. "Losing two is an unthinkable tragedy. Our hearts go out to the families of these officers and our thoughts and prayers are with them. This is a difficult day for the APD family and it is a reminder of their bravery and the sacrifices made by our officers every day."
The helicopter carrying the two police searchers crashed in the city's northwestern reaches.
Campos told The Associated Press by telephone that authorities are now trying to piece together the sequence of events that led up to the crash. He confirmed that authorities had received a report of a missing child in the area shortly after 9 p.m. Saturday and Atlanta police had responded to that call.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution later reported that a missing child was subsequently found unharmed, but Campos said he had no immediate details on the outcome of the search or whether it involved a boy or a girl.
Kathleen Bergen, a spokeswoman for the Federal Aviation Administration, told The Associated Press by email that the FAA was opening an investigation.
Dave Tulis, a photographer at the scene for AP, said power was blacked out on at least three sides of the intersection near the crash site early Sunday. He added that a Georgia Power utility crew was on the scene and it appeared the area had overhead lines of some kind. But he added police had blocked roads to the area from a distance and the crash site was obscured by a small rise.
Two fire trucks and several police cars with lights flashing were parked nearby in an area with markets, a major pharmacy and other businesses, he added.
Kathleen Bergen, a spokeswoman for the Federal Aviation Administration, confirmed in an email to AP that the FAA investigation was beginning but she didn't know the type of helicopter involved yet. She said the National Transportation Safety Board would be joining in the investigation with a role of seeking to determine the cause of the crash.
Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed also said he was saddened by what he called a "terrible accident."
"We mourn these two brave men and offer our deepest condolences to their families and loved ones," Reed said in a statement. "We also pause to extend our sympathy to the men and women of the police department who place their lives in harm's way every day to keep our city safe, and who especially feel the pain of this loss."
Authorities said they would release no other immediate statements early Sunday but added the names of photographs of the two officers would be made public later.
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