"Dear Lord . . . let me live through this."
That was the prayer recounted by Baltimore Police Officer Charles M. "Mike" Crocker, telling how he "held on for dear life" as an aerial observer in a department helicopter that crashed in the middle of Clifton Avenue Sunday night.
Officer Crocker gave his account of the crash on his release yesterday from the Maryland Shock Trauma Center, where he was treated for a fractured vertebra.
The pilot, Officer John W. Rennie, 46, remains hospitalized there in serious condition after major surgery Monday for three bone fractures of the back.
At a press conference, Officer Crocker thanked the veteran pilot, Western District officers who assisted them, and the Shock Trauma doctors who treated them, in addition to telling of the crash for which the cause remains under investigation.
For "five to seven seconds," the 1,900-pound, year-old Schweizer 300-C aircraft fell with "some power" from an altitude of about 200 feet before it slammed to the ground near the intersection of Clifton and Dukeland Street in the Walbrook area, Officer Crocker said yesterday.
The eight-year police veteran -- assigned to helicopter duty little more than two months ago -- said the hard impact was lessened somewhat by the aircraft's special seat design and the fact that its skids "expanded out like they were supposed to."
"It was a real experience," he said. "Officer Rennie did a heckuva job in handling the helicopter."
Officer Crocker said he and the pilot had just helped officers on the ground locate two suspects in a stolen car when the crash occurred about 9 p.m.
"I turned off the search light. There was a silence. I looked at Officer Rennie and he was fidgeting with the controls. He was concentrating on starting the helicopter," Officer Crocker said.
As Officer Crocker looked out the front of the aircraft, he said, he saw that the helicopter was falling to the ground at an angle with some power rather than straight down.
"I tried to get the dispatcher, but it was too late. I held on for dear life and said, 'Dear Lord . . . let me live through this,' " he recalled.
When other officers came to their aid, he said, he immediately asked one of them to turn off the fuel switch to avoid a fire.
Both officers are expected to require months of rehabilitation before they will be "as functional as they ever were," said Dr. Philip R. Militello, director of clinical services at the trauma center.
He said the officers were "very fortunate" to have survived, and to have escaped any significant spinal-cord damage.
When the body is subjected to a "vertical up-and-down deceleration" such as what occurred in Sunday's crash, the spine experiences "aerial loading" that compresses the bones and causes them to break, Dr. Militello said.
Had the aircraft not maintained some power, he said, the impact would have been greater when it crashed and there could have been more serious and even fatal injuries.
Both officers will have to wear back braces until their injuries heal and rehabilitation can begin, the doctor said.
Officer Crocker said he intends to ponder whether to resume his brief flying career.
"I haven't determined what I'm going to do," he said, adding that he will talk with his parents and girlfriend about it.
"I worked narcotics before. I might go back to narcotics," he said.
Police spokesman Sam Ringgold said the $197,000 aircraft was destroyed.
The crash was the first in the 22-year history of the police helicopter unit.
It is being investigated by the department and the Federal Aviation Administration.