A State Police helicopter pilot was seriously injured Wednesday when his chopper hit power lines and crashed while searching for marijuana fields in the Southern Tier.
Technical Sgt. Scott Norcutt, 34, was airlifted from the crash scene in the Cattaraugus County Town of Randolph to Hamot Medical Center in Erie, Pa.
Norcutt, who lives in Amherst, was listed in serious condition this morning.
Forest Ranger Martin Flanagan, 35, assigned to the state Department of Environmental Conservation and who was serving as the spotter on the flight, was taken by ambulance to WCA Hospital, Jamestown, for treatment of a severe cut to his head. His injuries are not life-threatening, said Lt. Jamie R. Mills, a spokeswoman in Albany.
The two left the wreckage under their own power, authorities said.
The accident occurred about 2:15 p.m. in what police described as a "gully" in the area of Route 62 and Little Bone Run Road.
The aircraft was a Bell 206L single-engine, jet-turbine helicopter made in 1979.
"It appears to have gotten tangled in some power lines," said Technical Sgt. Charlene M. Mahony, a Batavia-based State Police spokeswoman. The transmission lines, belonging to the Niagara Mohawk Power Corp., were severed, resulting in a seconds-long power disruption affecting utility substations in the area, a spokesman said.
"These were not residential lines," spokesman Stephen Brady said Wednesday night. "One of them is still out and down on the ground."
The helicopter's elevation at the time it hit the power lines is under investigation, authorities said. The Federal Aviation Administration and the DEC also are investigating.
Norcutt, a 10-year veteran of the State Police, has been assigned to the Aviation Unit since February 1990.
He has an FAA commercial pilot rating, as well as a commercial rotor-craft instrument rating, with more than 1,300 hours of experience in helicopters, authorities said. Norcutt also is a captain with the New York National Guard.
Flanagan lives in Ellicottville and is assigned to the DEC's Region 9 in Buffalo.
Based at the Genesee County Airport in Batavia, the helicopter was on a mission to identify clandestine marijuana crops. Ground crews then are directed to their location, so that the plants can be harvested and destroyed.
The helicopter sustained severe damage, authorities said.
The Aviation Unit operates 16 aircraft at five different locations. Besides marijuana eradication, aircraft help out in search and rescue missions, crime photography, surveillance, aerial speed enforcement, disaster response, aerial firefighting operations and other environmental conservation missions, authorities said.
The program has been in operation for three decades, authorities said, and Wednesday's accident was the first in its history that resulted in the downing of a State Police helicopter.