FRANKLIN COUNTY, N.C. — Whatever the cause of Friday's deadly helicopter crash in Franklin County, the Federal Aviation Administration said Ben Barrick, the helicopter's pilot, did not have a valid pilot's license.
On Monday, Barrick attended the funeral of fellow Franklin County deputy Ted Horton, who died in the crash. Horton helped bring Barrick and his non-profit Netstar Air Rescue helicopter to Franklin County.
Sheriff Jerry Jones said he now questions whether Barrick was upfront about Netstar and his pilot credentials. Jones told WRAL, "I feel even worse since the funeral ... I'm thinking I've been betrayed."
Since Frankin County did not own the helicopter and the deputies were off-duty, local leaders believe Netstar, not the county, bears liability.
Even if it were considered a "public use" mission, a closer look at FAA regulations reveals a surprising omission. Many pilots who fly on government business are not required to be licensed.
Some of the best pilots in the world fly for the military, which does not need FAA certification, but the exemption also extends to any aircraft used for public safety purposes.
Daniel Schwarzbach, president of the Airborne Law Enforcement Association, said the law should be strengthened. He said, "danger lies in the fact that there's no standard for maintenance or pilot certification." Schwarzbach also questions how Netstar could buy insurance since Barrick is not certified to fly.
WRAL was unable to contact Barrick. While the FAA exempts many pilots who fly for government business, WRAL has found the majority are certified. For instance, the Highway Patrol requires all of its pilots to be licensed.