El Paso, TX Agency Halts Flights Pending Safety Review
When the US Customs and
Border Patrol merged in 2005, it created the largest law
enforcement air fleet in the world with 250 aircraft. The agency is
planning to expand the fleet next year to 267. But, with two recent
fatal aircraft accidents and the airspace over the border becoming
more congested and active, people are getting worried the number of
accidents will also increase.
As ANN reported, CBP pilot
Clint Thrasher, 32, apparently lost control of his Cessna 182 and
crashed near San Miguel, TX April 25 while on routine patrol for
Almost one month later, CBP pilot Robert F. Smith perished when
his American Eurocopter AS350 went down in a residential area in El
Paso, TX, near the US/Mexico border May 22. Steven Takacs, a CBP
observer also onboard the helo, survived.
"The frontier with Mexico is one of the most dynamic,
fast-growing regions in North America," said state Senator Eliot
Shapleigh, D-El Paso. "Increased militarization -- more troops,
helicopters and weapons -- will inevitably lead to casualties."
CBP officials say the agency has "one of the best safety records
in the aviation industry" while acknowledging "the inherent risks
in aviation and law enforcement are ever present."
The director of CBP air operations in El Paso, Michael Wimberly,
announced he has halted all El Paso CBP flights pending an internal
review of "all our operations, our procedures, our safety
practices, just to see if we can find anything that needs to be
improved in order to avoid accidents in the future."
There are those who believe the only result of the Bush
administration's efforts to shore up the nation's border security
with more agents, technology, and equipment will be more accidents,
according to the Houston Chronicle.
"It's going to be commonplace for a helicopter to crash, or a
vehicle accident to happen, or some sort of confrontation with
neighborhood residents," said border expert Tony Payan, professor
of political science at the University of Texas-El Paso. "It's
going to be a nightmare."
This pair of accidents are the agency's first, Wimberly
"There has not been a case of a CBP Air and Marine aircraft
crash that resulted in injury to people on the ground," said the
"Communities in Texas and elsewhere can be assured that there is
no increased risk to them from Air and Marine conducting homeland
El Paso store owner and founder of the downtown merchant's
association Tanny Berg said border residents "shouldn't be any more
concerned about helicopters than people in Houston when helicopters
are monitoring traffic over the freeways during rush hours."
The CBP contends it conducts very rigorous pilot training and
scheduled maintenance on the 25 aircraft that are assigned to El
"I don't think the public should have any concerns for future
occurrences of this type," said Wimberly.