3 helicopters crash trying to keep frost from damaging crops

PALM BEACH -- Three helicopters crashed in west Palm Beach County early Wednesday as they tried to keep frost from damaging crops, authorities said.

Two pilots walked away unscathed, but one was flown in serious condition to St. Mary’s Medical Center in West Palm Beach, authorities said.

The first crash happened around 2:10 a.m. when the tail of a Robinson R-44 slammed into a post at Palm Beach County Glades Airport at Pahokee. The tail fell off and the helicopter went down. The two people on board were not injured.

Pilot William Harward, 53, of Miami, and passenger James Wyatt told authorities that they had just fueled up and were beginning to fly when the chopper began to spin and Harward attempted to control it by shutting down the main engine.

The chopper’s spin moved it to the east where the tail rotor struck a fire extinguisher mounting box on a pole about three feet south of the station and an obstruction warning light attached to the station.

At 5:45 a.m. the second crash occurred on the southeastern edge of Lake Okeechobee: Pilot Alfred Morrison, 62, hovered a Robinson R-44 over Star Ranch Enterprises sugarcane farm and crashed into a sugarcane field for unknown reasons,.

The chopper was severely damaged, but Morrison, of Coral Gables, walked away.

The third crash happened around 7:40 a.m. in a cornfield in Pahokee. The pilot of the helicopter was seriously injured, officials said.

The helicopters were privately contracted by farmers to fly over vegetable farms and circulate the air to keep frost away from the crops.