Customs helicopter crashes in South Texas

AP News
Posted: Oct 04, 2011 8:52 PM
Customs helicopter crashes in South Texas

A U.S. Customs and Border Protection helicopter crashed Tuesday near the Mexican border while supporting the chase of a pickup truck carrying marijuana in South Texas, officials said.

A pilot and observer were hospitalized for observation, but there were no serious injuries, CBP spokeswoman Gina Gray said.

The crash occurred in a rural area south of San Juan and Alamo surrounded by farm fields, though the crash site appeared to be a small landfill. Border Patrol and Texas Department of Public Safety troopers restricted access to the site, but the white belly of the customs helicopter could be seen as it rested on its side in the distance.

Gray said the crash will be investigated by the Federal Aviation Administration. She said the crash occurred around noon Tuesday while an EC-120 helicopter was "flying in support of routine border security operations." An FAA spokesman confirmed that an investigator would be coming from San Antonio.

A Border Patrol agent with direct knowledge of the incident, but who requested anonymity because he was not authorized to speak, said the helicopter had been supporting the pursuit of a truck driven by a juvenile that rolled on a road and came to rest in a home's front yard about a mile away from the helicopter crash site.

Border Patrol agents were cleaning up the scene around the smashed pickup Tuesday afternoon while others responded to the helicopter crash. Bundles of what appeared to be marijuana littered the lawn. The agent confirmed that the pilot and observer from the helicopter walked away from the crash but were taken to the same hospital emergency room as the truck's driver. No information was available about the driver's condition.

Alejandro Carillo, who was working in a field near the crash, said the helicopter turned on its side before reaching the ground, sending dirt churned up by the rotors into the air. He said there didn't appear to be an explosion.

The helicopters generally are used to support the pursuit of illegal immigrants and drug smugglers along the border.