Ocala, FL–At approximately 6:30 PM on Tuesday, May 2, 2017, Air One, a 2001 Bell 206B3 helicopter in the Marion County Sheriff’s Office Aviation Unit, crashed into Bay Lake. The helicopter was assisting the Florida Forest Service and Marion County Fire Rescue battle brush fires near Highway 315 and 212th Street Road in Fort McCoy. Sources claim the aircraft was upside down in the lake with the skids showing, according to statements made by command staff on scene. The pilot, Sgt. John Rawls, was injured and needed to be rescued from the crash site with the assistance of Marion County Fire Rescue, MCSO, and the Forestry Division. Once the helicopter crashed into Bay Lake, the pilot was forced to swim to shore and was transported via ATV through thick brush to safety.
According to MCSO, Sgt. John Rawls was the pilot, and lone occupant, of MCSO’s Air One helicopter during the fire-fighting operation, where Air One was dumping water on the fire with a water bucket attached to the aircraft. Sgt. Rawls was retrieving a load of water to continue to fight the fire when the helicopter experienced an unspecified malfunction and went down into the lake.
Sgt. Rawls has been a pilot with the Marion County Sheriff’s Office Aviation Unit since 1998 and is an Army Helicopter Pilot veteran who served his country during Operation Iraqi Freedom. Marion County Sheriff, Billy Woods, shared with the public that the pilot did receive injuries, but is at a local hospital receiving treatment is in stable condition and expected to make a full recovery. “Our pilot is OK and, though he does have some injuries, he should be fine,” said Sheriff Woods. “The Marion County Fire Rescue and the Florida Forest Service did an outstanding job in helping us get to our pilot out there in order to get him to the hospital, and I want to thank each of them for the services that they provided to us. We are extremely grateful to everyone who worked tirelessly to make sure Sgt. Rawls got the emergency care he needed.”
The Federal Aviation Administration and National Transportation Safety Board have both been notified.
The crash comes amidst a multi-month investigation by the Suncoast Standard into the Citrus County Sheriff’s Aviation Unit, and a 49-year-old OH-6, in particular, that is still in active service, even though it has been involved in both unplanned and hard landings. The findings will be shared in our next newsprint edition.
By: Dawn Jaglowski, Investigative Reporter
Suncoast Standard (c) May 3, 2017, 12:23 AM