TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) -- The Kansas Highway Patrol helicopter is back patrolling the skies. Repairs are finally complete, two years after an accident grounded it.
“In July of 2017, there was a hard landing incident here at the hanger that damaged the helicopter. It’s been in the process ever since,” said Capt. Jason Vanderweide, Kansas Highway Patrol pilot.
The Bell 407's tail rotor hit a hangar at Billard Airport, injuring the pilot and passenger, and sending the helicopter to Texas for repairs.
“We lost a lot of calls. There were a lot of agencies that needed assistance that we didn’t have the tool to provide them during that time,” he explained.
KPH's air unit does have several fixed-wing planes to help, but they don’t offer the same coverage the chopper can.
“We can low level at low speed. In addition, our flair unit is upgraded on this helicopter so it performs better than the old analog unites as this one is a digital HD unit,” Vanderweide detailed.
It came in handy during our flight. Troopers were asked to fly over the Oakland neighborhood to search for a man who was trying to break into a car.
“Red Honda pilot, trying to get into it,” said Vanderweide who was piloting the aircraft.
As soon as we were over the area, the man tried to flee. Our crew spotted him almost immediately.
“Walking northbound right at the intersection,” said Vanderweide while flying.
“Yep, I got him,” his co-pilot replied.
Topeka Police officers were quick to take him into custody, thanks to the efforts of these eyes in the sky.
“Being on the ground myself before, with the helicopter overhead, it provides some comfort to let you know that someone else is watching out for you,” said Vanderweide.
The helicopter returned to service last week Wednesday.
With local agencies like Topeka Police disbanding their chopper units over the years, KHP's is currently the only law enforcement helicopter in Kansas.