DETROIT (WXYZ) — It took several weeks for Detroit Police to agree to do on-camera interviews with 7 Action News after an incident in March that some say could have been catastrophic and some in the ranks say was a joy ride in a DPD helicopter.
Three men were on board. DPD pilot Daniel Balow, a DPD Captain, and a DPD Lieutenant.
As Balow was lifting off the DPD chopper at Coleman A. Young International Airport, also known as City Airport, on March 27 the tail rotor clipped the main blade of a Michigan State Police helicopter parked on the ground nearby.
We obtained pictures of the incident from MSP through a public record request through the Freedom of Information Act. Detroit did not provide us pictures or videos in the same kind of request.
Detroit commanders talking with 7 Action News say this was a legitimate flight mission to look at drag racing on city streets.
Charley Richey is the Chief Pilot of DPD Air Support.
He tells 7 Action News, “When the officer picked the helicopter up the tail of ours connected with the blades.”
The pictures from MSP show how the main rotor on their aircraft was shredded by the impact. State Police declined an interview but told us the cost of the repair was more than $100,000 and they paid for it.
Detroit Police Commander Darin Szilagy talked with me in this exchange:
Jim Kiertzner: "This could have been catastrophic?"
Commander Darin Szilagy: "Sure."
Kiertzner: "His blades are full throttle. He's 5 to 10 feet off the ground. Anytime any of those blades comes in contact with anything you can be out of control in a nanosecond?"
Szilagy: "Sure, sure we understand that and, you know thank God it wasn't. (said off to the side) Thank God it wasn’t."
Chief Pilot Richey added, “It wasn’t (catastrophic) because of the extensive training and emergency procedures we follow. He followed them right to the T."
Richey is licensed by the FAA to fly helicopters. Balow is not. He is a licensed private pilot for single-engine “fixed-wing” aircraft.
The two DPD choppers were donated to the city by the military. They are from the 1970s.
We checked and the FAA does allow in-house training for pilots in public settings like police, fire, and the military.
“We can operate them under a public use act,” says Richey.
7 Action News has flown with DPD in the past. DPD has technical flight officers who run the cameras and equipment to gather evidence including infrared imaging.
During the March 27 incident, a Saturday night, we learned there was a DPD Captain and Lieutenant flying. We are told to document drag racing.
I had an exchange with Chief Pilot Richey.
Jim Kiertzner: "Do they know how to run the equipment? Do they know how to take the pictures?"
Chief Pilot Charles Richey: "Good question."
Kiertzner: "With the chopper and all of that?"
Richey: "There was no equipment on board at that time for that. They didn't have to run it. They were going to use their cell phones to take video from the ground."
Commander Szilagy added, “There was no joy ride. I can tell you this, it was official business.”
Commander Szilagy says he’s taking flights to look at events on the ground.
“If there was any type of joy ride, I’d fire people,” he said.
The commander says a report on this incident has been turned over to the Interim Police Chief for possible discipline. The commander of the flight unit says the pilot has been grounded and has gone through retraining.