PAHOKEE — Three helicopters have crashed in the Glades overnight and this morning, sparing two pilots but sending one to the hospital as they worked to protect crops from freezing temperatures.
Details are scant, but it appears the first chopper went down about 12:30 a.m., said Palm Beach County Sheriff's Dep. Dale Smith. That pilot was able to walk away from the wreckage, which happened near the Pahokee Airport, he said.
A second helicopter went down just before dawn.
Palm Beach County Fire Rescue spokesman Capt. Don DeLucia said reports were that the tail rotor on the helicopter broke and the pilot made a "hard landing." That pilot suffered only minor injuries, Smith said.
The third crash happened in a "corn or sugarcane field" around 7:30 a.m about seven miles east of the Pahokee airport, DeLucia said.
"It just so happens that another pilot in a helicopter saw the crash, picked him up and brought him to the Pahokee Airport," Smith said, describing that pilot's injuries as "major" but "not life-threatening at this time."
That pilot was flown by Trauma Hawk to St. Mary's Medical Center in West Palm Beach, he said.
Details about which farms the pilots were working for at the time they crashed are not yet available. Smith estimated more than 25 helicopters fill the air above the Glades vast fields.
For years, farmers have contracted pilots to fly low to push air down to the ground and prevent the cold and frost from settling on the crops. Last night, farmers report that temperatures dipped lower than the official 37 degrees reported at Palm Beach International Airport.
They say it may take a couple days to estimate damage to crops including the corn and green beans.