Hero NYPD co-pilot 'fortunate' to fly craft

NYPD video showing Detective Robert Brager being lifted NYPD video showing Detective Robert Brager being lifted from the deck of the Grey Shark so that he could continue to monitor the patient on board the helicopter while en route to the hospital. (Jan. 29, 2013) Photo Credit: NYPD

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NYPD Sgt. John O'Hara was co-pilot in a helicopter that made the dramatic rescue of a stricken cargo ship crewman on Tuesday night in New York Harbor, plucking the heart attack victim from the vessel so that he could get lifesaving treatment. A video of the mission made it seem easy.

But there was a brief time when it was doubtful that O'Hara would be able to fly, let alone save lives.

In November 1986 O'Hara, then 26, was among six Bronx officers who were wounded when notorious fugitive Larry Davis, who was holed up in an apartment, started firing wildly at the officers who had come to arrest him, officials said. Davis escaped and was on the lam for about 17 days before he was captured.

None of the officers were killed but shotgun pellets from Davis' weapons sprayed around and some hit O'Hara, who reportedly had one lodged behind his eye, requiring surgery.

The surgeon who operated on O'Hara said years later in a news interview that the young officer told him: "There goes my career."

"I was disappointed, thinking something I wanted to do might not be possible," O'Hara, 52, a Bronx resident, said Thursday in a telephone interview.

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But with the encouragement of family and friends, O'Hara, who didn't lose any sight and can fly helicopters and small fixed-wing aircraft, made it into the aviation unit 25 years ago.

"It is a great unit to work in," said O'Hara, a 32-year veteran of the force. "I consider myself very fortunate."

Davis, known as "Loco Larry," became something of a Bronx folk hero after being acquitted in a number of murder and attempted murder trials, including that involving O'Hara and the other officers. He was convicted of murder in 1991 and sentenced to 30 years to life in prison. In 2008, Davis died when another state prison inmate stabbed him with a shank.

O'Hara doesn't think much about Davis now.

"That was one night in my career and I admit everything since then was very positive," O'Hara said.

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