National Park Service helicopters played vital role on 9/11

U.S. Park Police helicopter
File photo. A U.S. Park Police helicopter patrols downtown Washington, DC. Credit: USPP

The two helicopters of the U.S. Park Police, a division within the National Park Service, played a vital role after the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001.

Established in 1973, the missions of the USPP Aviation Unit include aviation support for law enforcement, medevac, search and rescue, high-risk prisoner transport, and Presidential and dignitary security. The unit has provided accident-free, professional aviation services for over 28 years.

Their base at the “Eagle’s Nest” in Anacostia Park is two to three air miles from the Capitol building, the White House, and the Pentagon.

When a hijacked 757 airliner crashed into the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. on 9/11 shortly after two others were flown into the World Trade Center in New York City, the two USPP Bell 412 helicopters, Eagle I and Eagle II, responded to the Pentagon immediately. The crews transported injured personnel to hospitals, served as a command and control platform, used their Forward Looking Infrared equipment to provide firefighters with intelligence about the scope and spread of the fire through the five rings of the structure, and took over air traffic control for the Washington, D.C. airspace after the controllers at Washington National Airport had to evacuate due to thick smoke.

In an effort to document the events of 9/11 and how the National Park Service responded that day and the months that followed, Park Service historians and ethnographers conducted more than a hundred oral history interviews with Service employees in parks, regional offices, and the Washington headquarters. Janet McDonnell, a Historian for the NPS, started with those interviews and adding her own research wrote the 132-page report, “The National Park Service: Responding to the September 11 Terrorist Attacks.” It is very well written and comprehensive, broken down by geographic area, Washington and New York City. It also covers the use of multiple incident management teams that helped to mitigate the wide-ranging effects across the country.

One of the sections concentrates on the Aviation Unit of the USPP. It is below:

Lieutenant Wallace and Sergeant Beck [of the USPP Motorcycle Unit] were not the only Park Police officers to respond at the Pentagon in those first devastating minutes. Officers in the aviation section also played an important role at the scene. At the aviation hangar in southeast Washington along the Anacostia River, some of the crew were taking advantage of the warm weather and bright sunshine by washing the floor out in the aviation hangar with the door open. Meanwhile, in an open field next to the hangar, one of the helicopter pilots, Sgt. Kenneth Burchell, was conducting riot training for the Defense department’s uniformed health services unit in preparation for the upcoming World Bank/International Monetary Fund protest demonstrations.

One crew member saw the news account of the first plane hitting the World Trade Center and called in the others. Sergeant Burchell, his fellow pilot Sgt. Ron Galey, and a few others went inside to watch the television coverage. After seeing the second plane strike and noting the clear blue sky, they quickly concluded that the crash was not an accident. Burchell and Galey headed back out to the hangar. They heard a loud thud and looked up to see a column of smoke rising from the vicinity of the Pentagon. Burchell immediately ran back inside, yelling for his crew.

Minutes later, the “aircraft crash phone” rang, setting off a distinctive horn alarm. The crash phone was a direct communications line from the control tower at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport to the hangar so that the aviation unit can respond quickly to incidents at the airport. Sergeant Galey took the call. On the other end of the line, the air traffic controller indicated that a 757 commercial airplane had crashed in the vicinity of the Pentagon. Meanwhile, a call had also come in on the police radio indicating that the Pentagon had been attacked.

Sergeant Keith Bohn
Sergeant Keith Bohn retired in November, 2018. From the NPS: “Congratulations to Sergeant Keith Bohn, who retires from the USPP after 35 years. His work in Patrol, SWAT, and Aviation was invaluable to the Force. A hero pilot of the Eagle on 9/11, but may be known best for his straightforwardness.” NPS photo.

The helicopter crews scrambled to gather their equipment, get to the helicopters, and launch. The duty crew that day, which included Sergeant Galey, rescue technician Sgt. John Marsh, and Officer John Dillon, ran out to Eagle I, a Bell 412 helicopter, and took off within two or three minutes. Sergeant Burchell grabbed Sgt. Keith Bohn and two Defense department medics with Uniformed Services University and Health Sciences who were there for the training. They began installing a mass casualty kit on Eagle II, another Bell 412 helicopter, which allowed them to carry four patients instead of two. The installation took a few minutes. Then Eagle II took off with pilots Burchell and Bohn, the two medics, aviation unit commander Lt. Philip Cholak, and assistant commander Sgt. Bernie Stasulli.

Shortly after launching, Eagle II received its first report that there was an unauthorized aircraft inbound. Eagle I directed Eagle II to land at the Pentagon to conduct medical evacuations. Eagle II quickly landed on a paved roadway 150 to 200 yards from the area of impact. Some of the crew grabbed their emergency medical equipment and ran toward the Pentagon building. At this point, with the reports of an unauthorized inbound plane, Sergeant Burchell realized they needed not only to evacuate the casualties but also to be ready to get as many people as possible away from the site before there was another attack.

Park Police helicopter 9/11
Two casualties are loaded on Eagle II.

Sergeant Bohn kept the helicopter engine running and Sergeant Stasulli stood outside to secure the landing zone. Stasulli was particularly concerned that people moving away from the building, particularly those who seemed somewhat dazed, would inadvertently step too close to the aircraft’s tail rotor blades and be seriously injured. Meanwhile, Lieutenant Cholak, Sergeant Burchell, and the two medics moved closer to assess the situation. They initially anticipated ferrying hundreds of patients to hospitals all day long so they wanted to set up an orderly process for this first. They checked in with the triage officer who indicated that there were only eleven casualties in need of medical evacuation. Cholak and one of the medics went to the triage area to assist. Burchell headed back to get Sergeant Bohn to move the aircraft closer, which he did.

Continue reading “National Park Service helicopters played vital role on 9/11”

NPS presents award to FLIR

FLIR award NPS
Major J. Burks, Major S. Fear, Matt Birnbaum;FLIR Director of Sales, Jenny Brooks; FLIR Mid-Atlantic Territory Manager, Major C. Guddemi and Captain S. Booker. NPS photo.

On Friday, September 5, 2014, the United Stated Park Police, a division within the National Park Service, held an awards ceremony recognizing and honoring FLIR for their dedicated service. FLIR representatives and U.S. Park Police officials gathered at the “Eagle’s Nest” located in Anacostia Park to commemorate FLIR’s contributions and continued support with Inaugural celebrations, 4th of July celebrations, and numerous special events.

U.S. Park Police’s Eagle 2 helicopter is equipped with a FLIR 8500 infrared and color sensor that provides stable thermal imaging as well as color video that assists with a range of law enforcement and rescue operations.

Pioneers in thermal imaging FLIR Systems designs, develops, manufactures, markets, and distributes technologies that enhance perception and awareness.

More articles on Fire Aviation about the NPS’ Park Police aviation unit.

Park Police helicopter crew receives awards for actions in DC Navy Yard shootings

Park Police awards
Left to right: ALEA President Kurt Frisz; Pilot Sergeant Kenneth Burchell; Rescue Technician Sergeant David Tolson; and Airbus Helicopters Law Enforcement Market Sales Manager Ed Van Winkle. (Airbus Helicopters sponsors the Gus Crawford Award). Photo provided by Ryan Mason – Airborne Productions, courtesy of the Airborne Law Enforcement Association.

On Friday, July 18th, United States Park Police Pilot Sergeant Kenneth Burchell and Rescue Technician Sergeant David Tolson received the Airborne Law Enforcement Association’s Captain ‘Gus’ Crawford Memorial Aircrew of the Year Award for 2014.

The award acknowledges a pilot and/or crewmember(s) whose flying efforts and proficiency characterize ALEA’s motto, “To Serve and Protect from the Air.”

[The U.S. Park Police is a division within the National Park Service.]

For the nomination period of April 1, 2013 – March 31, 2014, the United States Park Police were nominated twice for flying efforts during the Navy Yard shooting on September 16, 2013.

On that date, a lone gunman entered Building 197 at the Washington Navy Yard in Washington, DC, and began shooting people, creating an active shooter incident. As calls for help were received, multiple law enforcement agencies responded.

United States Park Police helicopter Eagle I, crewed by Burchell and Tolson, was asked to assist by the Washington Metropolitan Police Department. The Navy Yard is located directly across the Anacostia River from their hangar, also known as “the Eagle’s Nest.” Tolson in turn asked for additional aircraft due to the possibility of a mass casualty incident.

Due to the proximity of the Washington Navy Yard to Washington/Reagan National Airport, Eagle I notified Washington Tower, which in turn diverted air traffic from the immediate area and designated Eagle I as “air bos,” for aircraft coordination in the Navy Yard area.

On this tragic day, the crew of Eagle I initially assisted with aerial reconnaissance and perimeter control, simultaneously performing air traffic control. The crew then switched roles for the deployment of SWAT personnel and reconfigured for the extraction of a critically injured woman, which resulted in a medevac transport.

The crew returned to bring in another SWAT officer and extract the final three survivors. In the final phase, they returned to reconnaissance and perimeter control. Air operations terminated with a total of 5.5 hours flight time. All of these operations were conducted with an active shooter below them.

For these acts, the Airborne Law Enforcement Association awarded Burchell and Tolson the 2014 Captain “Gus” Crawford Memorial Air Crew of the Year Award. Officer/Rescue Technician Michael Abate was also presented an ALEA Presidential Citation for his roles in the incident.

(From the NPS Morning Report)


Our original report about the Park Police flight activities during the shooting incident.

More information about the National Park Service’s Park Police fleet of helicopters.

NPS helicopter rescues man and two dogs from icy lake

Park Police ice rescue training. NPS photo.
File photo of National Park Service’s Park Police Eagle One helicopter conducting ice rescue training, February 17, 2010. NPS photo.

One of the four helicopters in the National Park Service’s Park Police aviation unit rescued a man and two dogs from an icy lake Sunday near Gainesville, Virginia. Their previous training, documented in the photo above, paid off

Below is a summary of the incident, from the NPS Morning Report:

United States Park Police
Crew Of Eagle 2 Rescues Hypothermic Man From Lake

On the afternoon of Sunday, February 23rd, the United States Park Police Aviation Section received a mutual aid request from the Prince William County Fire and Rescue Department, which sought assistance from a Park Police helicopter with an ice rescue at Lake Manassas in Gainesville, Virginia.

US Park Police Eagle 2 responded with a crew of four – Sgt. Kevin Chittick, pilot; Officer Ryan Evasick, co-pilot; and Sgt. David Tolson and Officer Michael Abate, rescue technicians.

Eagle 2 arrived on the scene at about 3:45 pm and was asked to assist by hoisting an elderly man who had been stranded on Lake Manassas after his canoe became flooded with ice cold water. Prince William County Fire personnel had entered the water in ice rescue suits to attempt the rescue, but their efforts were hampered by unstable ice and dangerous conditions.

Chittick positioned Eagle 2 for the hoist and Tolson was lowered about 20 feet to the man, who was attached to a rescue strap and then hoisted aboard the helicopter. Chittick then flew it to the nearby shoreline, where the man was lowered to the ground. Paramedics transferred the man to a waiting ambulance and began basic and advanced life support treatment for severe hypothermia.

Eagle 2 then returned to the scene. Evasick was lowered to the canoe, where he located two dogs. He was able to rescue both animals and subsequently bring them to shore.

In 2012 we wrote about the Park Police aviation unit.

Park Police helicopter responds to D.C. shooting

During the law enforcement response to the tragic shooting at the Naval Yard in Washington, DC yesterday one of the the U.S. Park Police helicopters got a lot of air time on the television coverage.

According to reports the helicopter was used to insert snipers onto roof tops, serve as an observation platform, and to remove some non-law enforcement personnel from roofs or other areas. At times an armed officer was seen sitting in the open door. In addition to the video above, photos of the helicopter at the scene can be found at Yahoo and the New York Post.

The National Park Service has the helicopters organized within their Homeland Security Division, Icon Protection Branch, Aviation Unit which was created in 1973 with the acquisition of one Bell 206B Jet Ranger. Now they have multiple ships providing 24-hour coverage, including some twin-engine Bell 412EPs.

Last December we first wrote about the Park Police helicopters and included some photos taken during the response to Hurricane Sandy in the New York City area.

US Park Police aviation unit

USPP helicopter
National Park Service Director Jarvis arrives at Fort Wadsworth on the northeastern shore of Staten Island during the recovery from Hurricane Sandy. Fort Wadsworth was the location of the Incident Command Post for the National Park Service Incident Management Team after the hurricane. It is in Gateway National Recreation Area near New York City. NPS Photo.

Most people don’t know the U.S. Park Police exists, but the organization, created by President George Washington in 1791, is one of the oldest uniformed federal law enforcement agencies in the United States. Today they provide law enforcement services to designated areas within the National Park Service system, primarily the Washington, D.C., New York City, and San Francisco metropolitan areas.

Here are some recent photos of one of their helicopters.

USPP helicopter
US Park Police helicopter at the Statue of Liberty. The structures and piers at the site suffered substantial damage during Hurricane Sandy.

A description of the USPP’s aviation unit, from Wikipedia:


The Aviation Unit of the United States Park Police began in April 1973 and was placed under the command of Lt. Richard T. Chittick. It started with one Bell 206B JetRanger and a staff of three pilots and three rescue technicians based at the Anacostia Naval Air Station in a shared space with the MPD Aviation Branch. A second helicopter, a Bell 206B-3 JetRanger, was added in 1975 and the unit relocated to Andrews AFB.

The Aviation Unit moved to its present facility in Anacostia Park, the “Eagle’s Nest,” in 1976. In 1983, the 206B-3 was upgraded to a Bell206L-3 LongRanger. Their first twin-engine helicopter, a Bell 412SP, and the third helicopter to carry the designation “Eagle One,” was placed in service in January 1991. The unit grew to its current staff, and began providing 24-hour coverage in January 1994.

In August 1999, the unit took delivery of its second twin-engine helicopter, a Bell 412EP. It became the fourth helicopter in the unit’s history to carry the designation “Eagle One” and the same registration number as that of an earlier aircraft whose crew effected the rescue of victims after the crash of Air Florida Flight 90.

The missions of the United States Park Police Aviation Unit include aviation support for law enforcement, medevac, search and rescue, high-risk prisoner transport and presidential and dignitary security. The Aviation Unit has provided accident-free, professional aviation services for over 28 years. This is due to the dedication of the flight crews, the support from within and outside the Force, and the state-of-art equipment used in the performance of its missions.