By Staff Writer | July 1, 2007
The Sheriff’s Office of Bryan County, Okla. has purchased a surplus U.S. Army Bell Helicopter OH-58 as the centerpiece of a new air support unit with the help of a donation from the Native American Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma. "I think it will be a big plus for this area," said Bryan County Sheriff Bill Sturch.
The sheriff’s office began considering setting up an air unit in 1995, according to Capt. Steve Pelto, who along with Deputy David Bray, will pilot the aircraft. "I was in the Army and I liked helicopters. I said, ‘If we can get one, I’d sure like to have one,’" said Pelto, a 25-year veteran of the department. "Our sheriff is a retired military aviator, which helped."
Bray found the restored helicopter in Georgia and purchased it for $5,000 courtesy of a donation made by the Choctaw Nation. Two local businesses, Dunegan Collision and One-Stop Signs, provided a fresh paint job and lettering, respectively, free of charge. "We probably spent 60 man-hours on it," said Jeremy Dunegan, owner of the paint shop. "There were two men on it constantly."
Other merchants and organizations donated funds for a Wulfsberg radio system and a search light, which will be installed soon.
Sturch plans to use the helicopter for special missions, such as fugitive and missing person searches. The aircraft will also be available to neighboring law enforcement agencies.
Bryan County, on the border with Texas in eastern Oklahoma, was created in 1907 from part of the Choctaw Indian and Chickasaw Indian nation in 1907, when Oklahoma became a U.S. state. Named for William Jennings Bryan, it covers 943 sq mi and has 36,000 residents.