A police helicopter flying low on a night-time search for a missing nine-year-old child has crashed near a major Atlanta intersection, killing the two officers aboard on impact.
Police spokesman Carlos Campos confirmed the deaths and said no-one was hurt on the ground in an area streets from a busy east-west artery, Interstate 20, and in a neighbourhood populated by fast-food restaurants, stores, a major pharmacy and a light rail commuter station.
A police statement said the helicopter plunged to the ground at about 10.30 pm on Saturday. The names of the dead were being held while relatives were being notified.
Mr Campos later said the helicopter ``appeared to hit the utility wire on the way down''.
But he emphasised: “We don’t know what caused it.”
“Losing an officer is the most difficult thing a police chief can face,” Atlanta Police Chief George Turner said.
“Losing two is an unthinkable tragedy. Our hearts go out to the families of these officers and our thoughts and prayers are with them.
“This is a difficult day for the APD family and it is a reminder of their bravery and the sacrifices made by our officers every day.”
The helicopter carrying the two police searchers crashed in the city’s north-western reaches.
Mr Campos told The Associated Press that authorities are now trying to piece together the sequence of events that led up to the crash.
He confirmed that officials had received a report of a missing child in the area shortly after 9pm on Saturday and Atlanta police had responded to that call.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution later reported that a missing child was subsequently found unharmed, but Mr Campos said he had no immediate details on the outcome of the search or whether it involved a boy or a girl.
Kathleen Bergen, a spokeswoman for the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), told The Associated Press that the FAA was opening an investigation.
Dave Tulis, a photographer at the scene for AP, said power was blacked out on at least three sides of the intersection near the crash site early on Sunday.
He added that a Georgia Power utility crew was on the scene and it appeared the area had overhead lines of some kind. He also said police had blocked roads to the area from a distance and the crash site was obscured by a small rise.
Two fire engines and several police cars with lights flashing were parked nearby in an area with markets, a major pharmacy and other businesses, Mr Tulis added.
Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed said he was saddened by what he called a “terrible accident”.
“We mourn these two brave men and offer our deepest condolences to their families and loved ones,” Reed said in a statement.
“We also pause to extend our sympathy to the men and women of the police department who place their lives in harm’s way every day to keep our city safe, and who especially feel the pain of this loss.”