In a moving speech before a collection of police officers and members of the press, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed spoke for the first time about Officers Richard Halford and Shawn Smiley who died in a helicopter crash early Sunday morning.
"There is nothing harder for me as mayor," Reed said of the occasion.
Halford was 48 years old and Smiley was 40. At the press conference the mayor also announced funeral arrangements for the two men.
"What we want is every police officer and every member of the Atlanta Fire and
Rescue to remember, to know, is that when you risk your lives for the people of this city, when you get up in the morning and put yourself in harm's way on our behalf, that you should never worry for a moment in the event that you don't make it home, that the people that you love the most in the world are going to be supported by the city of Atlanta," Reed said.
Officials said that the police helicopter that Halford and Smiley were flying was 45 years old, but had been completely refurbished within the last decade. Despite its age, the pilot and maintenance crew were confident it was safe to fly.
The crash made national news when the helicopter went down near the intersection of Hamilton E Holmes Dr. and Martin Luther King Dr. early Sunday morning while the officers were searching for a 9-year-old boy who was believed to have run away. Investigators with the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) said they believe a collision with power lines caused the police helicopter to crash. They said that was based on witness statements and evidence.
Officials said that using the helicopter, which was given to the Atlanta Police Department in 1994 by the military, to search for missing children or those believed to have run away was not uncommon.
The department had a newer helicopter, but Reed said the veteran pilot, who had been flying for 16 years, preferred the older model because it was easy to maneuver.
"This is a routine call that an air unit would respond to," Deputy Chief Renee Propes told the Associated Press. Propes added that police helicopters are dispatched for a variety of reasons, including tracking stolen cars. Three helicopters remain in the fleet, including the one purchased new in 2002 for $1.4 million at the department's request, officials said.
The AJC reports that Halford, who was piloting the helicopter oon Sunday, had more than 3,000 flying hours.
"We're going to rally around the families of these officers," said Reed, "in a manner that is consistent with the best of us."