A Marion County Sheriff’s Office helicopter crashed Tuesday night while battling a brush fire in Fort McCoy.
The Aviation Unit was assisting the Florida Forest Service and Marion County Fire Rescue with active brush fires occurring near Highway 315 and 212th Street Road in Fort McCoy.
MCSO Sgt. John Rawls was the pilot and lone occupant of MCSO’s “Air One” helicopter during the operation, where Air One was dumping water on the fire with a water bucket attached to the aircraft. Rawls was retrieving a load of water to continue to fight the fire when the helicopter experienced a malfunction and went down into the lake. Sgt. Rawls was able to free himself from the aircraft, swim to shore and call for help.
The Florida Forest Service and Marion County Fire Rescue assisted MCSO deputies in making a path to the lake to reach Rawls with heavy equipment in order to get him medical attention. Rawls was transported to the hospital and is currently in stable condition. The Federal Aviation Administration and National Transportation Safety Board have both been notified.
Sgt. Rawls has been with the MCSO since 1998. He is also an Army Helicopter Pilot veteran who served his country 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.”