AUSTIN (KXAN) — With a grand jury Wednesday declining to bring any charges against Luke Serrato, the APD SWAT officer who last February shot and killed the man who was firing at a police chopper overhead, the pilot of Air-1 that night is speaking out for the first time.
It is believed to be the first gunfire attack ever on an APD chopper. Pilot Ryan Miller remembers getting the call to fly to the sound of gunshots in southwest Austin, “We arrived on scene, saw the suspect immediately within 20-30 seconds and he immediately began engaging the aircraft with gunfire, we could see him on our flare camera. It’s very clear on the video he’s pointing a weapon at the aircraft and firing, you can see the shell casings ejecting from the weapon.”
Miller began moving Air-1 about, changing his altitude and speed, trying to become a difficult target, “We darkened the aircraft, turned off all external lights making the aircraft harder to see. We identified landing zones in the event of an emergency. We talked about where the nearest hospital was if one of us happened to be injured.”
The fiberglass composite skin of the chopper doesn’t offer much protection to the crew. Miller points out, “The aircraft is not armored, it’s not a military aircraft, it does not have the bullet proofing in the floors or anything like that. We’re always aware of the possibility we may be hit by gunfire from the ground.”
It ended after little more than an hour, a very long hour. Miller saw Officer Serrato shoot the gunman, 27-year old Sawyer Flache. “We did see him go down, yes. It’s unfortunate, no one ever wants to see that in any kind of situation. You don’t want to see anyone lose their life, by all accounts he hadn’t had any run-ins with police, apparently he was just having a very bad day that night, so it’s sad to see that, no one wants to watch that outcome.”
There are three choppers in the APD fleet. The newest was acquired in 2013. The oldest, which they hope to replace, was brought on line in 1996. There are nine members of the flight teams, three of them pilots. APD hopes to always have one to two choppers ready to get airborne in an instant.
Ryan Miller added that he was glad Officer Serrato was cleared, and with that, he prepared for his next shift, patrolling our skies, keeping us safe.