Foundation seeks $6.6 million to repair Vietnam-era helicopter following collision
Troopers say the helicopter was damaged after a drunk driver slammed the chopper in December
WEST COLUMBIA, S.C. (WOLO) —Three weeks ago, troopers say drunk driver crashed into a former Army helicopter near Columbia International Airport that saw action in the Vietnam War and Operation Desert Storm.
The Celebrate Freedom Foundation, the West Columbia-based organization that owns the chopper, wants to put it back in the air, but needs millions of dollars to put that dream in flight.
In order to restore this helicopter, which was first built in 1966 and is used to teach students about careers in science, the Celebrate Freedom Foundation says it will cost around $6.6 million to repair, but for several veterans across the state, the idea of this Cobra AH-1F back in the sky would make them proud.
“If I could restore this to total flight, this would be one of the oldest cobras flying in the United States. There are men in South Carolina who have worked and flew her in combat back in Vietnam, that would be kind of a big deal,” said Stephen Seymour, the Executive Director of the Celebrate Freedom Foundation.
Police reports say on the morning of December 14, Thomas Andrew Anderson, 37, of Harrisburg, N.C., accidentally took an access road instead of the expressway, hitting the helicopter that was parked at the end of the access road. Anderson was later charged with driving under the influence.
The foundation says the helicopter was parked in their parking lot so people could take pictures near it for the holidays.
Since the helicopter was first built in 1966, some said the costs come from having to get specific parts and labor to restore it to flying condition.
“The fuel tank was ruptured. Engine has been dismounted. The transmission’s been cracked. Lines have been broken. These parts, you just can’t buy these parts, these parts are restricted because of this being an attack aircraft,” Seymour said.
The Foundation’s Cobra AH-1F, also known as “Annie”, has not been in the air since 2001, but has been taken to more than 150 schools across five states to teach students about careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.
Due to the impact the helicopter has had on others, some said they do not want to see “Annie” succumb to her damage.
“We took a census of our volunteers and our veterans, and yes, they want to restore her, they want to get her back in the air again,” said Lori Wicker, the Director of STEM Education for the Celebrate Freedom Foundation.
Even though the price tag is steep, the Foundation is hopeful they can put Annie back in the skies.
“There’s only one thing that’s final and that’s death. Everything else can be rebuilt, can be fixed. If you look at it now and then two years from now, she’s standing there proud, that would show that anything is possible,” Seymour said.
So far, the Foundation has raised $1,000 of the $6.6 million needed to repair the chopper.
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