Following the fatal crash of a Tulare County Sheriff’s Office airplane, the Kings County Sheriff’s Office has grounded its recently acquired plane.
Sheriff One, a Flight Design Composite Technology Law Enforcement (CTLE) aircraft, crashed around 4:15 p.m. Wednesday along Highway 190 near Lake Success, just west of Porterville. The crash killed the pilot, 45-year-old Hanford resident James Chavez, and Deputy Scott Ballantyne, 52, of Visalia.
The Tulare County Sheriff’s Office said the plane had assisted in catching a man brandishing a weapon prior to the crash. There was no distress call and the plane’s parachute was not deployed prior to the crash, the department said.
The plane logged more than 3,000 hours of flight time since it went into operation in mid-2011.
The Kings County Sheriff’s Office bought a Flight Design CTLEi aircraft in 2014 for about $471,000. Sheriff David Robinson said the plane, known as Sky King 1, is a newer, fuel-injected version of the one that crashed Wednesday.
Like the Tulare County plane, Sky King 1 features a parachute system that allows for safe landing in the event of engine failure.
For the safety of his pilots, Robinson said Sky King 1 has been grounded until more is known about the crash. He said he hopes to get the plane back into operation quickly.
Megan Rapozo, public relations officer for the Tulare County Sheriff’s Office, said the Federal Aviation Administration is investigating the crash. She said there is no set timeline to determine the cause.
“We’ll be waiting for their results along with everyone else,” Rapozo said.
As of Thursday, the FAA’s preliminary accident and incident report website said the aircraft “crashed under unknown circumstances and caught fire.”
Robinson said the Tulare County Sheriff’s Office assisted with the research and the purchase of Sky King 1. Chavez was one of two pilots who helped train pilots for Kings County’s air program.
“He knew all of our pilots and worked with every single one of them,” Robinson said.
Chavez was hired as a pilot for the Tulare County Sheriff’s Office in 2014 and had volunteered for more than a year prior. The sheriff’s office said he was hired for his extensive aviation experience and exceptional piloting skills. He had previously served in the California National Guard, Navy Reserve and the Tulare County Sheriff’s Aerosquadron.
Robinson said Chavez was “truly an expert” with the CTLE aircraft.
Ballantyne started with the Tulare County Sheriff’s Office in 1989. He became a deputy observer for Sheriff One, using high-tech equipment to guide deputies on the ground during pursuits.
“It’s just tragic,” Robinson said.
Gov. Jerry Brown announced Thursday that flags at the state Capitol would be flown at half-staff in honor of Ballantyne and Chavez.
“We are grateful for these men, who made the ultimate sacrifice doing what they did everyday – serving and protecting their community,” Brown said in a statement.