A police helicopter assisting with a car-theft arrest crashed last night in the middle of a street in the Walbrook area of Baltimore, injuring the two officers aboard.
Police said the helicopter was demolished in the crash.
It was piloted by Flight Officer John W. Rennie, 46. He and the aerial observer, Officer Charles M. "Mike" Crocker, 29, were taken by ambulance to the Maryland Shock Trauma Center, where officials said the men were in serious but stable condition today. Both were conscious and able to describe the accident, authorities said.
Officer Crocker received a broken leg in the crash and both men have cracked vertebra, police said.
Witnesses in the large crowd that gathered around the site at Clifton Avenue and Dukeland Street said the crash occurred just after 9 p.m. as the helicopter -- a year-old Schweizer 300-C -- was directing its spotlight at a 1987 Ford Tempo stopped by officers at the intersection. Police suspected the car had been stolen.
They said all the aircraft's lights suddenly went out, the engine stopped and in seconds the craft spiraled about 200 feet to the ground. Police said Officer Rennie, the pilot, retained some ability to steer, managing to avoid rowhouses, parked cars and pedestrians and direct the copter to the middle of the intersection.
"It was really a remarkable feat that he was able to put it down where he did," said Police Agent Doug Price, a department spokesman.
Immediately after the helicopter hit the ground, police officers activated the helicopter's emergency fuel cut-off valve and disengaged the craft's electrical system, said Officer Tony Petralia, of the traffic division.
That helped keep the helicopter, which was spilling fuel, from catching fire.
Officer Petralia said police recovered the tail-rotor blade 162 feet from the crash site, adding that it landed there as a result of the impact with the ground.
He said the impact was so severe that one of the wooden grips on Officer Rennie's service revolver broke off and was found under his seat.
The aircraft was destroyed and later was lifted onto a trailer and ++ taken to the Glenn L. Martin Airport at Middle River in Baltimore County, where it was to be examined to determine what caused it to lose power and crash.
Federal Aviation Administration investigators arrived at the scene late last night as rain began to fall.
Fire Department Battalion Chief John Petrovic said 14 pieces of fire apparatus were dispatched to the scene.
"We knew a police helicopter had gone down," said Chief Petrovic, "and we wanted to make certain [we] had sufficient manpower and apparatus on the scene in case there was a fire and casualties."
He said that by the time firefighters arrived, the two injured officers had been moved several yards from the helicopter.
He said the aircraft's leaking fuel was neutralized with a dry powder.
Jamie Bull, 14, of Windsor Avenue, said he was watching the helicopter before the crash.
"The bird came around my house with its light on," he said. "It seemed to be chasing someone. It twisted, and then it dropped."
K. C. Davis, 16, who was standing on Clifton Avenue, said he saw two patrol cars on Clifton next to the stopped Ford.
The two suspects were standing alongside with their hands on )) the roof of the Tempo when the accident occurred, he said.
Carmen Jones, 32, of nearby Koko Lane, said that as the copter fell, "it was flapping like a bird," with its tail spinning around and around. "It was wobbling down and then it hit the ground," she said.
Police said two department helicopters had flown to the area as patrol cars pursued the car. One returned to the base at the Glenn L. Martin State Airport in Middle River. The second helicopter -- which crashed -- had remained to illuminate the area for officers on the ground, they said.
Last night's crash was the first in the 22-year history of the so-called "Foxtrot" Baltimore police helicopter unit, said Regis R. Raffensberger, who organized it in 1970 when he was with the Baltimore force.
Mr. Raffensberger, now police chief in Frederick, said last night the Foxtrot unit's safety record was "the best of any airborne law enforcement unit in the world." He said there had been 78 "precautionary landings" since 1970, but no accidents.
He said Officer Rennie, whose nickname is "Rooftop," has 20 years of flying experience, including two tours of Vietnam as a helicopter pilot. He was shot down three times in Vietnam, Mr. Raffensberger said.
Police identified the two occupants of the Ford Tempo as Derrick Lamont Frazier, 27, of the 5300 block of Carriage Court in Southwest Baltimore, and a 14-year-old boy from the 500 block of North Carey Street. Both were charged with auto theft.