City policy prevents police chopper from flying over water at night, official says

City policy prevents police chopper from flying over water at night, official says
Weather has hindered the search over the past few weeks. (Source: WOIO)

DOWNTOWN CLEVELAND, OH (WOIO) - The Cleveland Division of Police's helicopter didn't immediately assist with search and rescue efforts immediately after a plane crashed into Lake Erie because it's against city policy to fly the chopper over water at night, officials said.

Cleveland Police Patrolmen's Association president Steve Loomis said he thought the chopper could have helped the Coast Guard with search efforts earlier in the process.

"It may not, in this particular case, made a difference between life and death, but it certainly would have made a difference in closure," said Loomis.

City gambled tragedy wouldn't happen, police union president says of plane search

Loomis also alleged that the pontoons -- or floats -- on the bottom of the helicopter were not properly certified and that's another reason why he believed the helicopter didn't go out over Lake Erie to help with search efforts. The city claims the the pontoons were certified, however.

Cleveland 19 has asked for the documentation showing when the certification occurred.

The city initially said it is illegal for a "single engine aircraft" like the Cleveland police helicopter to fly over water at night. The plane crashed the evening of Dec. 29, after dark. A representative from the Federal Aviation Administration said in general, that's not illegal -- but it may be against city policy to fly the helicopter at night over water.

That's what Public Safety Director Michael McGrath said at a Thursday afternoon news conference.

"We deployed our aviation unit on New Year's Day, on which time they put the pontoons back on the aircraft. And another bit of information -- even with the pontoons on the aircraft, it can fly over water but not at night time, that's just our policy," said McGrath.

Cleveland 19 has requested the city's specific operations manual for the helicopter.

Representatives from the city's Joint Information Center said the police helicopter had a regularly scheduled New Year's Eve patrol, during which the chopper also searched the shoreline. Representatives with the center said that during the day on Friday and Saturday, that the Coast Guard had said no additional aerial assistance was needed, as the Coast Guard helicopter and a plane from Canada were already searching the area.

The city said the Coast Guard suspended its efforts on New Year's Day, and that's when the city's chopper took a more prominent role.

Cleveland 19 will continue to update this developing story.

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