|Thomas McNeff, 36
Badge No. 1758
Died Oct. 2, 1983
Pilot McNeff was flying an Arizona DPS helicopter in a rainstorm
when it crashed in a cotton field near Marana, Arizona. The DPS
aircraft was en route to Catalina to pick up a pregnant woman and
fly her to a Tucson hospital.
( Photo and caption courtesy Arizona Department of Public Safety.)
I was touched by the fact that you made the entry in memory of Tom. I wanted to let you know the story of the day Tom died. I think his fellow 192nd pilots would be proud of him.
The Tucson area was hit by a major storm one night. Wide area flooding started early in the morning. Tom and his paramedic, Rich Stratman started flying rescues at around 6:00 am. Over the course of the day, they flew over thirty rescue missions rescuing many people who were either stranded, injured or caught in swift water. On of their last missions, a deputy who was there later reported that both Tom and Rich looked exhausted. However, they wouldn't go back to base or turn down a mission.
Around midnight, they accepted a mission to pick up a stranded woman who was giving a breach birth. Witnesses reported that as the helicopter (they were flying a Bell Long Ranger) flew over them, it began making popping noises and sparks and flames were shooting out of the top of the chopper. They crashed a few seconds later into a flooded cotton field.
The investigation concluded that the transmission on the helicopter was failing. Tom put the chopper in a dive intending to flare out just before touch down and put the helicopter down before he had complete rotor failure. Unfortunately the barometer had changed so that Tom's altimeter was a 100' off. Tom had 100' less altitude than he thought he did. The flooded cotton field made it so he had no depth perception. It was also pitch black and raining. He flew the helicopter straight in. Both men were killed instantly.
There are monuments to Tom and Rich at Tucson City Hall and DPS headquarters. They are also, of course, named in the law enforcement monument at the State Capitol in Phoenix and in Washington, D.C.
Mike McNeff, Gotu01@aol.com