One Houston police officer was killed and another critically injured Saturday morning, May 2, when their Houston Police Department helicopter crashed at an apartment complex. The crash was the first fatal crash in the Houston PD’s 50-year-old Marine and Air Division, but it follows a series of other incidents in recent years that could indicate a decline in its once-sterling safety record.

Tactical flight officer Jason Knox, 35, and Senior Officer Chase Cormier, also 35, were responding to a report of bodies in a nearby bayou just before 2 a.m. Saturday when the aircraft began to spin out of control.

Houston’s aerial fleet temporarily grounded

According to Houston’s ABC 13 Eyewitness News, Video of the crash shows the spinning helicopter crashing into a building at the Biscayne at Cityview apartment complex on Imperial Valley Drive. The collision caused extensive damage to the building but no apartments were directly impacted and no injuries were reported on the ground.

Officer Knox died from crash-related injuries at Memorial Hermann Hospital. Officer Cormier underwent emergency surgery and is recovering from multiple severe injuries, including a broken back.

Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo suspended the air support division’s operations after the crash to give the department time to process the incident.

“We’re going to stand them down for a little bit just to get everybody’s emotions together,” Chief Acevedo said, according to the Houston Chronicle. Authorities with the Texas Department of Public Safety and the Harris County Sheriff’s Office are helping the city with air patrols during the grounding.

Multiple safety incidents in recent years

Daniel Schwarzbach, who spent nearly four decades with the Houston Police Department, including 30 years in the air support division, told the Houston Chronicle that the deadly crash raises concerns, especially since it follows another helicopter crash the department experienced less than a year ago.

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigated that incident and determined that the aircraft made a sudden uncontrollable yaw and bank to the right as it was a few feet above ground during landing. The helicopter’s left skid hit the ground and the helicopter rolled over onto its side. Both officers — flight officer Knox and Sgt. Stephen Howard — were able to escape the downed aircraft without serious injuries.

“Having two crashes like that is not normal within the same agency in that short amount of time,” Mr.  Schwarzbach told the Houston Chronicle. “There’s something going on that needs to be looked at.”

In 2017, a Marine and Air Division pilot and his supervisor were suspended for several days after the pilot took two of his relatives on helicopter ride-alongs. The aircraft ran low on fuel during the flight and had to land in a parking lot.

The division has experienced multiple other minor crashes and emergencies in recent years, from engine failure and other mechanical mishaps to fuel emergencies and hard landings.

The Houston PD’s Marine and Air Division is one of the oldest and largest units of its type in the U.S. At one point, the division was the largest air patrol unit operating 16 helicopters and one airplane. The unit now operates a fleet of 10 helicopters and one airplane.

According to the Houston Chronicle, the U.S. Helicopter Safety Team’s records show there were 122 helicopter accidents in 2019, including 24 fatal accidents resulting in 51 fatalities. So far in 2020, there 19 helicopter crashes have occurred in the U.S. Three of those crashes resulted in 13 deaths.

Most of the 2020 deaths resulted from a Jan. 26 helicopter crash near Los Angeles that killed NBA legend Kobe Bryant, his daughter, and seven others.

Aviation litigation

Beasley Allen lawyer Mike Andrews focuses much of his practice on aviation litigation and currently represents families of Ethiopian Airlines flight 302 victims involving the Boeing 737 MAX aircraft. In addition to his Ethiopian Airlines crash clients, Mike has represented people seriously injured in a variety of aviation crashes, and the families of those killed in both civilian and military airplane crashes and helicopter crashes.

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