2 injured as Gwinnett police helicopter crashes during storm; airport reopens

Two Gwinnett County officers were injured Friday when a police helicopter went down during a storm at Briscoe Field in Lawrenceville, police said.

Authorities learned of the crash after getting a 911 call from witnesses at the control tower about 10:58 a.m., Gwinnett police Cpl. Michele Pihera said outside the airport.

Gwinnett firefighters helped free one of the officers, who was trapped inside the MD 369, officials said. The officer said he “could not move or feel his legs,” said David Thompson, who works at a pilot training center near the crash site and ran to offer his assistance when he heard the helicopter go down.

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The other officer was able to exit the helicopter without assistance, police Detective David Smith said in an emailed statement. He complained of lower back pain, Thompson told Channel 2 Action News.

Both officers were taken to Gwinnett Medical Center Lawrenceville. They were alert and talking, and their injuries were not life-threatening.

Gwinnett police tweeted Friday afternoon that they remain in the hospital, and Channel 2 Action News reported that they were in surgery.

Their names were not released.

RELATED: Gwinnett cops may get raise to deal with major attrition issues 

After the crash, officials closed Briscoe Field. It reopened around 5 p.m. Friday.

Officials said the helicopter suffered significant damage and they are not sure if it can be repaired. What was left of the helicopter was removed Friday afternoon.

The incident happened about 200 yards from a hangar, according to police.

"This is the best possible place to crash, if you can say that,” Pihera said. “They crashed on the grass. They didn't crash over a neighborhood or a school or on (Highway) 316.” 

Officials said the officers were returning to the hangar from a wanted-person call on Mitford Road in Dacula when the helicopter went down between a runway and a taxiway. 

“That person was on the run for a significant amount of time,” Pihera said.

The suspect was later arrested by ground officers on unspecified charges. 

Weather conditions were windy and a storm was coming in at the time, according to police.

The pilot “noticed the weather patterns starting to change and notified the ground officers that they would be turning back,” Pihera said.

It is not known how far off the ground the helicopter was before it crashed, Pihera said, but witnesses told Channel 2 they saw it drop 50 to 75 feet.

The Federal Aviation Administration is investigating. It could be several months before it releases its findings.

A hazardous materials crew also was called to the scene due to a minor fuel leak, according to officials. 

The police officers were wearing aviation jumpsuits and other safety gear at the time of the crash, Pihera said. A helmet belonging to one of the officers could be seen on the ground near the crash site.

“My focus is on the condition of the officers,” Gwinnett Commission Chairman Charlotte Nash said. “I am praying for them and for their families.”

— Staff writer Tyler Estep contributed to this article.

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