Exclusive: Former APD officer who survived 1994 helicopter crash - CBS46 News

Exclusive: Former APD officer who survived 1994 helicopter crash speaks

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APD helicopter involved in 1994 crash APD helicopter involved in 1994 crash
ATLANTA (CBS ATLANTA) -

Riverdale Police Chief Sam Patterson remembered the helicopter crash he was involved in when he heard about the helicopter accident that killed two Atlanta police officers.

"I'm just terribly empathetic to the families of the officers, their loved ones, their children," said Patterson.

Patterson is a Vietnam vet who flew combat helicopters for the Army. He joined the Atlanta police department in 1987 to fly.

Patterson's accident happened on Jan. 15, 1994. Patterson said he was in a test flight above the Westview Cemetery when his engine died and his helicopter dropped inside the cemetery. Westview is located about a mile from where Saturday's fatal crash.

"I was about 500 feet above the ground, it was very dark. I knew I was over the cemetery," said Patterson. "In a helicopter when you are flying alone you hear the sounds of the helicopter. You kind of hear them but you don't hear them. When the sounds of the engine go away, when the engine failed and that sound of the engine was no longer there it was a very eerie feeling."

Patterson broke his back but he survived. Former APD Chief Beverly Harvard honored him with the Blue Star Award for surviving the crash.

"I did fracture my l4 vertebra in my back, which kept me from being able to walk away from the crash, but I did survive it and I fell very blessed to have survived it," said Patterson.

Officers Richard Halford and Shawn Smiley died in the crash on Saturday.
Patterson said Halford replaced him when he left APD. They were friends for 25 years.
Patterson said Halford was a good pilot.

"I'm sure whatever he was doing, he was doing in the interest of trying to find that missing child. Unfortunately, it may have cost him his life," said Patterson.

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