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Wed, May 23, 2007

Pilot Killed In CBP Helo Accident

Passenger In Stable Condition

The US Customs and Border Protection service has lost one of its pilots, less than a month after another fatal accident.

The Associated Press reports Robert F. Smith was piloting an American Eurocopter AS350 when it crashed in a residential area near the US/Mexico border Tuesday morning. Smith was pronounced dead at an area hospital; Steven Takacs, a CBP observer also onboard the helo, was in the ICU in stable condition, according to Michael Wimberly, air operations director for the agency in El Paso.

Witnesses say everything appeared normal as the helicopter flew toward San Elizario, TX from the nearby town of Fabens, when it ran into problems.

"They were flying along real good, then there was a snapping, popping noise," said Wayne Weaver. "You could hear a light hum, then like a thunk."

One of the first people to respond to the crash scene was Juan Chavez, 95, a retired colonel from the Army Air Corps. Along with others, he worked to free both men from the wreckage.

"This here ain't nothing new to me," said Chavez, who rushed to the scene in his pickup truck. "I knew what to do. I'm an old pilot."

Both men were unconscious when they were pulled from the wreckage, but one of the men came to as he was carried to the ambulance.

"We told him he was OK and to hang in with us," said Chavez.

The FAA is investigating Tuesdays accident, the second fatal crash of a CBP aircraft in the last month. As ANN reported, Clint Thrasher died April 25 when he apparently lost control of his Cessna 182 while on station near San Manuel, TX.

FMI: www.cbp.gov, www.faa.gov

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