MARION COUNTY, Fla. (WOFL FOX 35 - A Marion County sheriff's deputy nearly made the ultimate sacrifice, while helping put out wildfires. Sgt. John Rawls was dumping buckets of water from a chopper on a massive Ocala wildfire when deputies say something went wrong and his helicopter went down in a lake.
“When you go through a helicopter crash, you need help now,” stressed Lauren Lettelier, Marion County Sheriff's Office spokeswoman, “we didn't know the severity of his injuries; he was going through a bunch of adrenaline to even get to the shore. We're thankful he even got out of it.”
Katherine Teuton lives near the lake where the crash happened and says she heard it all.
“All of a sudden I hear like 'br-r-r-r-r-r-r' and then nothing, and then I hear two 'pop-pops.' Apparently when he got out of the helicopter and swam to land, he shot a flare off to let them know where he was back there,” she recalled.
Deputies say Rawls is the best of the best; an army veteran, who's been with the department since 1998. They say he's irreplaceable.
“We cannot replace Sgt. Rawls,” Lettelier explained, “we can replace a helicopter.”
Teuton says she's thrilled to hear Rawls is in stable condition.
“I think that's awesome,” she said, “he did an excellent job of bringing it down and not doing any more damage to himself or any other property because it could have easily could have done something over somebody's house!”
Deputies say it could be days before the wreck is recovered. They say on top of all the danger that Sgt. Rawls faced in making it to shore, is that the lake is infested with alligators.