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The Shawnee News-Star
  • Courageous acts: Details emerge on pilot’s rescue after plane crash

  • While an Oklahoma Highway Patrol pilot recovers from injuries suffered when his plane crashed in Pottawatomie County, many say the heroic rescue efforts and teamwork of several law enforcement officers who pulled that trooper to safety likely helped save that pilot’s life.
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    While an Oklahoma Highway Patrol pilot recovers from injuries suffered when his plane crashed in Pottawatomie County, many say the heroic rescue efforts and teamwork of several law enforcement officers who pulled that trooper to safety likely helped save that pilot’s life.
    Trooper Dennis Dickens, a veteran trooper, was piloting an OHP plane as part of a manhunt in the area of SH 9 and Bethel Road about 7 p.m. July 26. Because there was already a manhunt taking place, law enforcement officers and sheriff’s deputies, including those involved in a tactical man-tracking team from the District 23 task force, were on the ground as part of that search.
    As the pilot whistled and pointed from the air to the location of the suspect, the plane, about 80 feet off the ground, had some type of mechanical problem and crashed in a pasture, the OHP reported.
    Pottawatomie County Sheriff’s Deputy Jason Holasek, who is assigned to the task force, saw the plane bank hard, level out and crash belly first.
    Holasek, who was tracking the suspect along a creek, reacted to what happened. He knew Deputy Anthony Lee, also assigned to the task force, had the suspect in sight so he ran about 200 yards toward the plane, running through rough terrain and a muddy creek, Sheriff Mike Booth said.
    Holasek, who said he saw the wing of the aircraft had caught fire, was first at the plane and found the trooper facedown, about 2 to 3 feet from the wreckage.
    Already tired from heat and the manhunt, Holasek grabbed the pilot’s arms and pulled him about 5 to 8 feet, but became affected by smoke and fumes from the plane, Booth said.
    “I pulled him as far as I could,” Holasek said, before collapsing from exhaustion himself.
    That’s when Shawnee Police Cpl. David Carpenter, who is also assigned to the task force, followed by Citizen Potawatomi Nation Major Jody Opela, arrived and together pulled the trooper about 35 to 40 yards from the burning airplane.
    Holasek said he feels the trooper leveling out the plane before it went down contributed to his survival.
    “His doing that saved his own life — all we did was assist him,” Holasek said, adding they were all doing their jobs in response to the accident.
    Holasek said Carpenter and Opela immediately assessed the pilot’s injuries and helped him at the scene before medical personnel arrived to stabilize the pilot and get him to an awaiting Medi Flight helicopter ambulance.
    “There’s no doubt in my mind they saved that trooper’s life,” Undersheriff Travis Palmer said of the group’s actions.
    Page 2 of 2 - Holasek, as a precautionary measure, went to an area hospital to be checked after inhaling the smoke and fumes.
    Opela was among many CPN officers working the manhunt when he witnessed the plane go down and then rushed in to help, with all of them working together.
    “We knew we had to get him out fast,” Opela said, so they pulled the pilot a safe distance away from the burning aircraft.
    Opela said the trooper, although injured, was talking to them during the ordeal.
    While the rescue effort was unfolding, Deputy Lee was taking the suspect, who was allegedly combative, into custody, Booth said.
    Lee, who said he was focused on the suspect and what he needed to do, said, “What those guys did what absolutely heroic.”
    District Attorney Richard Smothermon, who oversees the task force, said they all displayed “courage under fire.”
    “They put themselves at risk — what else can you ask of law enforcement?” Smothermon said, also calling their efforts heroic.
    Numerous other law enforcements officers also worked the scene as troopers continually arrived, with the incident affecting them all in one way or another as Opela said they are a brotherhood.
    “We all work together as a team,” Opela said.
    The National Transportation Safety Board, (NTSB) and Federal Aviation Administration, (FAA) are investigating details of the crash.
    The suspect from the original auto collision that prompted the manhunt was identified as Brent McKenzie, 50, of Shawnee.
    According to the patrol, McKenzie was apprehended by law enforcement officers and booked into the Pottawatomie County Public Safety Center on complaints of DUI, leaving the scene of an accident, unsafe lane change and resisting arrest. Formal charges haven’t been filed in that matter.
    Watch for updates.
     
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