Above: photo by Marion County Sheriff’s Office.
A Marion County Sheriff’s Office helicopter went down in a lake during water bucket operations on a wildfire in Florida Tuesday at about 6:30 p.m. In his last radio transmission pilot Sgt. John Rawls said he was going down, then after the helicopter rolled over at least once he exited the ship and swam about 50 yards to shore.
Only the tip of one rotor blade sticking out of the water is visible at the lake now, according to officials. The Sheriff’s Office said the helicopter experienced a malfunction as it was refilling the water bucket.
The Florida Forest Service and Marion County Fire Rescue assisted Sheriff deputies in making a path to the lake with heavy equipment in order to reach the pilot. Sgt. Rawls was transported to the hospital and is currently in stable condition.
The NE 212th Street Road fire is in Marion County, Florida about 20 miles northeast of Ocala. It has been burning for about a month.
Sgt. Rawls has been with the Marion County Sheriff’s Office since 1998. He is also an Army helicopter pilot veteran who served during Operation Iraqi Freedom.
“Our pilot is OK and, though he does have some injuries, he should be fine,” said Sheriff Billy 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.”