Deadly helicopter crash leads to plans to buy new aircraft with $15 million

A Broward sheriff’s rescue helicopter that crashed into a building last week, killing two people and sending four others to the hospital, has resulted in the county’s plans to set aside $15 million to replace the aircraft.

Broward Mayor Lamar Fisher said the upcoming budget will accommodate the expense of a new twin-engine Airbus H145, which records show can fit up to six people, at 275 pounds each, as well as K-9 teams and specialized equipment.

“This is a unique opportunity to immediately purchase” the equipment since the wait time can often be three years, but Airbus reached out after the tragedy with an availability to provide the helicopter sooner, Fisher said.

The reallocation of money for the budget changes, including the $15 million helicopter-related expenditure, was drafted in a memo to county commissioners Wednesday, and obtained by the South Florida Sun Sentinel. County commissioners are scheduled Thursday to give initial approval to their $8.6 billion budget.

The Sheriff’s Office doesn’t need just one new helicopter: Fisher said county administration is now working with the Sheriff’s Office on a “long-term strategic plan” to purchase additional helicopters for both the fire and law enforcement wings of the agency.

Broward Sheriff Gregory Tony had said the Sheriff’s Office and the county had had a “multitude” of conversations about replacing the current helicopters over the last three years. He said in June he again raised concerns about the state of the helicopters.

“We’ve been piecemealing parts for years to be able to maintain the flight capability,” Tony told commissioners at that meeting.

The county says that for the fiscal year budgets since Tony has been the sheriff, he has not formally made any requests for helicopters. County spokesman Greg Meyer said the county finds “no record of the Broward Sheriff’s Office having requested funding for replacement helicopters or additional helicopters in its budget proposals for FY20, FY21, FY22, FY23, or FY24.” (FY refers to each fiscal year.)

On Wednesday, a spokeswoman for the Sheriff’s Office referred to comments that Sheriff Tony made on the WIOD radio station that morning. “Our aviation department’s hurting right now,” Tony said on the air. Replacement would “show them that the community and this commission cares about them,” he said.

For now, the helicopters are still grounded, he said.

The agency had four helicopters prior to last week’s crash, two for the law enforcement side, and two (now one) for fire-rescue.

A deadly crash

The Broward Sheriff Fire Rescue helicopter crashed into an apartment building in Pompano Beach on Aug. 28, killing Capt. Terryson Jackson, and a woman in the building. Four other people were taken to the hospital. The woman was formally identified by the agency Wednesday as 65-year-old Lurean Wheaton.

Jackson and his crew were on their way to help a woman and her daughter injured in a car crash in North Lauderdale. Jackson was trapped in the wreckage and could not get out. His funeral is Friday. Tony posthumously promoted Jackson to battalion chief.

The exact cause of the crash remains unknown, but the helicopter fell out of the sky after an in-flight fire, the National Transportation Safety Board said. A pilot reported both a left engine failure and an engine fire during the flight.

Additional budget plans

Taxpayers in Broward County will have no change to their county-levied tax rate of $5.669 for every $1,000 of taxable value in the proposed budget. However, taxes will go up since property values have soared by 11%. Homesteaded properties are capped at increases of 3% due to the “Save Our Homes” provision.

Among the county’s other budget funding plans:

  • $20 million of funding is included for affordable housing.
  • An annual amount of up to $1 million is going toward capital improvements at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts, for up to five years.
  • $50,000 is being funded for death benefits for the families of police and fire officials.
  • The county has budgeted $500,000 for its share of costs for creating a master plan for an initiative to create a new recycling program led by a consortium of cities and the county. The budget also includes three years of anticipated start-up costs at $25,000 per year for items like printers and office space.

The county government is just one piece of the overall property tax bill. The public school board, water district, Children’s Service Council, hospital districts and city government also collect taxes.

The County Commission is scheduled to tentatively sign off on the budget at 5 p.m. Thursday. The final approval is Sept. 19. The new budget year begins Oct. 1.

Lisa J. Huriash can be reached at Follow on Twitter @LisaHuriash

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