SIERRA VISTA, Ariz. (KGUN9-TV) - The Cochise County Sheriff's Department has eyes in the sky once again and their new helicopter made its maiden voyage New Year's Day. As for timing, this comes one year and one day after their former chopper crashed, killing two men.
On New Year's Eve in 2014 pilot Jeff Steel and mechanic Marc Hanson died when the county's previous helicopter - nicknamed Cochise Air - made a hard landing near Benson. It was on it's way back from Maricopa County getting routine maintenance when it crashed.
In February of 2015, Cochise County Sheriff Mark Dannels told Nine On Your Side, "We're gong back up, a new aircraft is what we're looking at."
Fast forward to January 1, 2016 and a new helicopter takes flight for Cochise County. It's nickname - Geronimo.
Getting specific, it is a Eurocopter AS 350 B2 and it will not cost taxpayers anything. The chopper, the crew, fuel, and more are fully funded from a $1.5 million dollar grant from the Howard G. Buffett Foundation.
Carol Capas, spokesperson for the Sheriff's Department, tells Nine On Your Side over the phone that Geronimo will be a "huge asset" and give them "greater ability to provide service."
During the past year the county has not had any air support of their own, relying on other agencies like Customs and Border Protection, Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, or the Department of Public Safety. For example, when a woman went missing after flooding near Sierra Vista over the summer, a DPS helicopter aided deputies in the search.
With Geronimo, they no longer need to rely on other law enforcement for air support. Additionally, the new chopper will help deputies cover all 6,200 square miles of Cochise County in a number of ways like search and rescue, transportation, and more.
Capas says the funding for Geronimo lasts only one year. They do not have the money to pay for the chopper on their own so they are hoping to secure funding that would let them keep Geronimo flying in 2017.