A Marion County Sheriff's Office pilot was helping contain a brushfire when his helicopter lost power and crashed on Tuesday night, according to Ludie Bond, the Wildfire Mitigation Specialist of the Waccasassa Forestry Center.
Bond said the pilot was able to safely get out of the helicopter. He does have some injuries, but he is in a stable condition at a local hospital, Marion County Sheriff Billy Woods said. The crash happened around 6:30 p.m., according to Sheriff Woods.
The helicopter, which had a bucket attached to it, was being used to collect water from a lake and drop it onto the fire. During the pilot's last round of the night something malfunctioned and the helicopter plunged into the lake near Highway 315, according to our news partners at WESH Orlando. The helicopter pilot, Sgt. John Rawls, swam to the shore of the lake where he waited for rescuers to arrive. The helicopter remains in the lake, according to WESH Orlando.
"With the assistance of the Marion County Fire Rescue and the Forestry Division who did an outstanding job of helping us get to our deputy out there, to our pilot, in order to rescue him to get him here to the hospital. And I thank each of them for their services," said Marion County Sheriff Billy Woods.
The pilot was helping contain the "NE 212th Street Road" wildfire in Fort McCoy, Florida, Bond said. The fire is about a month old, 100% contained, and no structures had been damaged, according to Bond.
The Federal Aviation Administration is investigating what went wrong, according to our news partners at WESH Orlando.