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Gwinnett to replace helicopter destroyed in crash that injured cops


One of the Gwinnett County police pilots injured in a September helicopter crash could return to work soon.

Officer George McLain, 38, suffered unspecified injuries during the Sept. 1 crash near the runway at Lawrenceville’s Briscoe Field airport

“He’s recovering at home,” Gwinnett police Chief Butch Ayers said Tuesday. “... We expect him to return probably within the next couple of months.”

McLain’s co-pilot, Cpl. Michael Duncan, was paralyzed from the waist down during the crash. He continues to recover at the Shepherd Center in Atlanta, Ayers said.

The police chief spoke with reporters Tuesday after formally requesting that the county’s Board of Commissioners purchase a new helicopter to replace the one destroyed in the crash that injured McLain and Duncan. The commission later approved the necessary contracts, which totaled north of $3.9 million.

Ayers said insurance would likely cover at least $2.4 million of that cost. 

The new chopper will come from Arizona-based MD Helicopters. The crashed helicopter and Gwinnett PD’s other already-owned aircraft were both purchased 25 to 30 years ago, Ayers said, but were “rebuilt” by MD around 2014. 

The new helicopter will also use the same operations platform Gwinnett already uses. 

John Heard, Gwinnett’s District 4 commissioner, asked Ayers on Tuesday if he had any qualms about buying a new aircraft from the same company that built the helicopter that crashed. Ayers said he had “no concerns” and that using the same operating system as the department’s remaining helicopter was a good idea, too.

“For safety concerns, you really don’t want to have two different platforms,” the chief said.

On the day they crashed, McLain and Duncan were headed back to Briscoe Field after cutting an aerial search for a wanted person short due to an approaching storm. According to an initial report from the National Transportation Safety Board, McLain reported feeling a “strong wind gust” followed by a "sudden, uncommanded, violent" vertical twist and never regained control.

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