Helicopter search yields no new leads

Tuesday, October 7, 2003 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 4:47 p.m. CDT, Friday, July 11, 2008

Investigators will meet this morning to decide whether to call off their search for a downed helicopter after spending more than two days combing for clues in soybean fields in western Boone County.

The search began Saturday night after an anguished caller told 911 dispatchers his helicopter, westbound from North Carolina, had crashed while carrying him and six other people.

“Based on the fact that we don’t have anything, we don’t have much to go on,” said Rob Brown, spokesman for the Boone County Fire Protection District.

Rescuers suspended their search at 7 p.m. Monday and plan to meet at about 8 a.m. today to decide if their search should end, he said.

“I’m actually hoping we don’t find anything,” Brown said.

Caller sounded disoriented, sobbing

The 911 caller, at times sounding like he was sobbing and at other times sounding disoriented, told an emergency operator the helicopter went down around 10:45 p.m. Saturday. Barely four minutes into the conversation — and after the operator said the location of the cell signal had been pinpointed — the call was cut off.

Investigators have targeted the call within 50 meters from the middle of a soybean field 2,000 to 3,000 feet south of Interstate 70, Brown said.

But as of Monday night, rescuers found nothing. No helicopters were reported missing, nearby airports reported no emergency calls, and there were no reports from the public to validate the 911 call.

FAA hasn't found missing helicopter

The Federal Aviation Administration hasn’t identified any missing helicopters originating from North Carolina, FAA spokesman Tony Molinaro said.

Despite a lack of clues pointing toward a crash, rescue crews aren’t treating this incident as a hoax, Brown said.

The Boone County Fire Protection District received about 15 calls from people who said they may have seen or heard a helicopter crash Saturday night, he said.

Brown played the 911 call for reporters Monday, saying its tone showed “why we still put some credence in continuing the search.”

The caller, who identified himself as Larry Bishop, said his helicopter was flying to Kansas City from North Carolina, Brown said.

Brown said his department has identified 15 people by that name in North Carolina, but the identifications have produced no leads.

Transmitter, beacon also not found

Rescuers also have not yet recovered evidence of a transmitter or beacon from the reported crashed helicopter, an item investigators usually detect fairly easily after crashes, said Doug Westhoff, Boone County assistant fire chief.

Authorities said that more than 100 searchers, eight fire units, three helicopters and several airplanes were involved in the search.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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