POMPANO BEACH — Those who happened to be driving on Interstate 95 or looking out of their apartment windows in Pompano Beach Monday morning watched as the burning helicopter spiraled out of the sky.
“There’s a helicopter with a full tail on fire,” a woman told 911 dispatchers as she was driving on Interstate 95 near Cypress Creek Boulevard. “The whole back end is on fire and it doesn’t look like he’s landing any time soon.”
She had just watched the bright red helicopter fly low over the highway, only about 100 meters off the ground.
The Broward Sheriff’s Office Air Rescue helicopter crashed into an apartment building in Pompano Beach Monday morning after the pilot reported both a left engine failure and an engine fire, according to the National Transportation Safety Board.
The Airbus Helicopter EC-135T1 took off from Pompano Beach Airpark, which is north of Atlantic Boulevard and sits between Federal and Dixie highways, and was in the air only for a few minutes, according to FlightAware, on its way to respond to a car crash involving a mother and young boy in North Lauderdale. The incident occurred during its “initial climb phase,” according to the Federal Aviation Administration accident report, but “under unknown circumstances.”
The crash killed Fire Rescue Captain Terryson Jackson and a woman who lived in the apartment building below. Four others were injured.
Two crewmen, BSO paramedic Mikael “Mike” Chauguaceda, 31, and Fire Rescue pilot Daron Roche, 37, were hospitalized after the crash. They have since returned home, the Sheriff’s Office said Tuesday.
Witnesses watched as the helicopter caught fire, split in two, spiraled into the ground, crashed into the apartment building and erupted into flames followed by explosions only feet from their homes.
“We saw it circling,” a woman said from the fourth floor of her building. “It was smoking, we saw some fire, and it went down.”
A man told dispatchers that he looked up from the 10th floor of his apartment building and noticed the burning helicopter. He began to film, watching as it fell apart.
Footage of the crash shows the helicopter’s tail begin to come apart from the rest of the aircraft, engulfed in flames.
With the tail rotor disabled, the pilot had no ability to control the helicopter, J.F. Joseph, a former Marine Corps pilot and director of flight operations at the Texas Department of Transportation, told the Sun Sentinel on Wednesday.
“It just broke in half in the sky and fell about 1,000 feet,” the 911 caller said.
“Oh my gosh,” the dispatcher said.
“You guys will see smoke,” the man added. “There’s a massive fire.”
“What’s your name?” the dispatcher asked the man.
“Oh, big explosion,” the man said. “Big explosion. Holy s***.”
The helicopter had crashed through the roof of the one-story, eight-unit apartment building below. Firefighters arrived to fight the flames that began to spread into multiple units.
Jackson, the Fire Rescue captain, was trapped in the crash and first responders couldn’t get to him, Broward Sheriff Gregory Tony said. The Sheriff’s Office has not officially identified the woman who died.
Tony said that he had asked the county for new helicopters years before the crash. A 2017 report said that the helicopter that crashed should have been replaced a decade ago, after its 12-year inspection. In a June budget workshop, BSO told County Commissioners in a presentation that the two Air Rescue helicopters were “end-of-life.”
A final 911 caller on Monday said the helicopter had crashed 300 yards away from him. It looked like the police helicopter that he always sees taking off and landing at the airport.
“It just blew up, something just blew up,” he said.
“You saw something blow up?” the dispatcher asked.
“No, I heard it,” he said. “The whole ground shook. I can see the fire, oh geez, the fire’s massive now. I’m sorry to your family, ma’am.”
BSO is now in talks with Airbus, the manufacturer, about two new helicopters, for which Tony said he received a “verbal agreement” from Broward County Mayor Lamar Fisher.
It remains unclear when or how those helicopters will arrive. BSO’s budget request for 2024 did not include new helicopters, Broward County administrator Michael Ruiz told the Sun Sentinel on Wednesday.
The NTSB is investigating the crash and will release a preliminary report in the next few weeks.