CAMP JOSEPH T. ROBINSON, N.Little Rock -- A helicopter from the Arkansas National Guard has gone down this afternoon in the vicinity of Buffalo Point on the Buffalo National River.
At approximately 1:30 p.m., a OH-58 Helicopter with the Arkansas National Guard's Reconnaissance Air Interdiction Detachment based at Camp Robinson went down along the Searcy-Marion County line in northcentral Arkansas in the vicinity of Buffalo Point on the Buffalo National River.
The aircraft was carrying three onboard — an Arkansas National Guardsman, who was the pilot; a member of the Arkansas State Police; and a member of the 20th District Drug Task Force. Initial reports indicate that the three men sustained minor injuries and have been airlifted to an area hospital for assessment.
The aircraft departed from Camp Robinson shortly after noon and stopped in Clinton to pick up the members of law enforcement who the National Guard was supporting on an aerial reconnaissance mission. The aircraft left Clinton at approximately 12:45 p.m. and the pilot called Camp Robinson Operations at 1:30 p.m. to report the incident.
The National Guard has dispatched a team to the crash site to secure the scene and begin the investigation into what may have caused the mishap. Names of the individuals onboard the aircraft are being withheld by the National Guard until family members can be contacted.
National Guard recovers wrecked 'copter in Buffalo River
MULL, Ark. -- The Arkansas National Guard OH-58 helicopter that crashed Thursday afternoon was successfully removed from the Buffalo River. Recovery began with the removal of a flare on board the submerged helicopter by the Searcy County Dive Team.
A team from the Arkansas National Guard's Army Aviation Support Facility worked on Friday to recover the wreckage of the OH-58 Kiowa helicopter that crashed in the Buffalo National River on Thursday. The team, made up of pilots, maintenance personnel and aviation investigators, returned to the scene via trucks and a Blackhawk helicopter on Friday morning.
The team removed the helicopter from the scenic waterway and took it back to Camp Robinson near North Little Rock on a truck. The aircraft will receive a thorough examination for investigators to learn what may have caused or contributed to the crash.
The three men aboard, the National Guard pilot, the state police officer and the officer from the 20th Judicial District Drug Task Force have been medically evaluated and all listed in good condition.
The helicopter, from the Arkansas National Guard's Reconnaissance Air Interdiction Detachment based at Camp Robinson, was on its way north flying an aerial reconnaissance mission in support of a law enforcement criminal investigation when it went down around 1:22 p.m. on Thursday. These are common missions for this detachment of the Guard. Its pilots flew more than 550 hours in support of state and federal law enforcement during 2008.
The pilot, a standards and evaluation rated instructor-pilot with more than 15 years experience flying with the Guard, reported noticing abnormal vibration in the flight controls and was looking for an open area to land when the aircraft suddenly plummeted into the Buffalo River. The Arkansas National Guard has had OH-58 helicopters in its inventory and been flying with them since 1988. The aircraft are slated to be phased out in 2011, and are being replaced Army wide with the new UH-72 Lakota helicopter from EADS North America.
Col. Mark McMullen, state aviation officer for the Arkansas Army National Guard said, "The OH-58 is a reliable aircraft, and we have been flying this particular airframe for some time without any unusual maintenance problems." The National Guard and the National Parks Rangers had secured the crash site overnight and were monitoring the wreckage for any possible fuel or oil leaks that might pose a hazard to the waterway. "We recognize the beauty and value of the Buffalo River to the people of Arkansas. We hope that our recovering of the aircraft today, and minimizing its impact on the waterway, can allow the Parks Service to quickly reopen the section of stream around Buffalo Point for use by outdoor enthusiasts," said McMullen. He added that although the skill of the pilot was able to limit the damage to the aircraft and any serious injuries, the Guard would like to thank those members of the public that rushed to help get the occupants out of the helicopter as it sank in the river.
The Guard has begun the long, thorough investigation process into what may have caused Thursday's crash, but it may be some time before a clear cause is determined.