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Crashed helicopter located; pilot killed

By Kristen Bishop · 340-2443

BANKHEAD NATIONAL FOREST — Searchers found a helicopter Tuesday that disappeared from radar during a flight from Florida to Kansas and crashed in a heavily wooded area of Bankhead National Forest.

Pilot John Scott, 26, of Panoma, Kan., was dead inside the helicopter when searchers arrived, said Lawrence County Sheriff Gene Mitchell.

It was unclear Tuesday what caused the crash. The National Transportation Safety Board, a federal agency charged with maintaining U.S. aviation standards, is leading the investigation.

Scott, who worked for a company that conducts aerial pipeline and power line surveys, was flying alone from Lakeland, Fla., to Topeka, Kan. He had refueled in Sylacauga and was supposed to land in Muscle Shoals on Sunday to spend the night but never made it.

Scott’s helicopter dropped from the radar area at about 5 p.m. Sunday over Bankhead forest, according to Maj. Pat Mitcham, a spokeswoman for the Civil Air Patrol.

At daybreak Monday, after the helicopter hadn’t reappeared and Scott hadn’t contacted authorities, search airplanes and helicopters began combing the forest.

State trooper, Cullman County and Limestone County aviation units started the search, and the Lawrence County Sheriff’s Department joined them at about 4:30 p.m. Monday, said Mitchell.

Searchers saw smoke coming from the Owl Creek Horse Camp area a few miles north of the Winston County line and narrowed their search to that region Tuesday morning, he said.

“A plane spotted (the missing helicopter) and hovered over it so we could relocate and get to it,” said Mitchell.

Searchers on the ground found the pilot inside the helicopter at about 11:30 a.m.

The dense forest made the search difficult, said Mitcham.

“Given the terrain, you don’t want to send anyone into the Bankhead without something to focus on,” she said. “The trees are in full bloom, and it’s hazy and hard to see because it hasn’t rained in awhile.”

Mitchell said no one was injured during the search.

Local authorities did not remove the helicopter from the forest Tuesday in order to preserve any evidence that would assist the NSTB in their investigation, said Mitchell.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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