TPD Chopper Unit Grounded in Wake of Crash on Washburn Campus

By: Brian Dorman Email
By: Brian Dorman Email

Topeka Police Chief Ron Miller has grounded the department's chopper unit in the wake of a crash on Washburn University's campus just before midnight late Friday night.

The Chief says he is following department policy and actions taken in the past in taking the action while investigations are conducted. The department's Robinson R44 Helicopter went down in a parking lot near Stoffer Science Hall at 11:55pm Friday. The Federal Aviation Administration and National Transportation Safety Board are investigating.

"There were three people on board, two pilots and an observer. Nobody was injured, they were taken to St. Francis Hospital for observation and released from there," Lt. Col. Gary Herman, with the Topeka Police Department said from the scene early Saturday morning.

A source close to the investigation tells 13 News that it is believed the R44 chopper was having some sort of mechanical failure which lead to an emergency landing attempt in a parking lot of Washburn University. The chopper attempted to land near Washburn Ave. and 17th Street near the science buildings on the campus. When landing the chopper became entwined with a light pole in the parking lot, causing the helicopter to plummet to the ground, landing on its side.

Lt. Col. Herman says the helicopter was assisting a ground crew on a disturbance call when the accident happened. He wasn't able to elaborate on what type of police call that was or what caused the chopper to make an emergency landing at Washburn University.

"The FAA is going to investigate the accident as they always do and the Kansas Highway Patrol is assisting in the investigation and will help the FAA with their investigation," Herman said.

Witnesses say it was a typical Friday night with a lot of people in the area of Varsity Blues Bar on 17th Street just across from where the chopper went down.

"I didn't really know what was going on at first. I was kind of like is that for real, or is this a drill? Then I saw it and all the signs said this is real, someone crashed a helicopter," said Amanda Husmann, a Senior at Washburn who was in the area at the time.

"It was hard to see at first, we got a little closer than where we are now. They roped it all off with the police tape. Kind of an odd situation to see a helicopter crash there," Washburn University Senior, Chris Marshall said from the scene early Saturday morning.

Many who were around when the crash occurred were just in shock and disbelief.

"The guys in the house said it was a helicopter crash and at first I didn't believe it, I thought it was a car accident over there, but then I got a closer look and it was definitely a helicopter," Washburn University Freshman Todd Roberts said, "They heard a loud crash or something like the engine fluttering and a loud crash, then it fluttered some more and gradually stopped."

A large area on campus along 17th street and along Washburn Ave. remains blocked off by police caution tape as the investigation continues. Classes are still being held on the campus of Washburn University Saturday even just feet away in the nearest science building.

No one was injured on the ground during the crash and no structures or vehicles were damaged in the process.

The FAA is expected early this afternoon to begin their investigation and answer the many questions everyone is asking, including what caused the plane to land there.

This of course was a sensitive call for Topeka Police and Shawnee County Sheriff to respond to, many officers vividly remember the crash in June 2000 that killed two officers.

"It is a ripple effect and the first thing you do is take care of business at hand and the first thing you want to know is if everyone okay, after that its all equipment and equipment can be replaced but people can't. there is always a concern people can get hurt and no one was hurt in this and were happy about that," Said Herman.

13 News caught up with City of Topeka Mayor Bill Bunten and City Manager Norton Bonaparte at the Topeka Takeover Makeover event Saturday afternoon.

"Nobody was injured and we are very glad they got down safely, it's unfortunate situation that it had to happen," Bonaparte said.

"Well it's a bad accident and were very fortunate no one was injured. The FAA will be looking into it and they will determine what happened whether there was some sort of malfunction or pilot error. I don't think it makes, or has any other ramifications, we expect our pilots to fly them well and our mechanics to have them in good condition. If there is something that needs to be done in regards to those activities we will certainly look into it," Bunten said.

The helicopter has been removed from the area of Washburn University by at least 3PM. The FAA has concluded there investigation at the scene and the helicopter is being inspected at a pad. The only evidence of the crash in the parking lot is the twisted light that the chopper collided with.

Stay with 13 News for the latest information.


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