The Walker County Sheriff’s Office's Aviation Division officially got off the ground on Wednesday.
The purpose of the first flight was to search the area where 23-year-old Summer Buzbee was last seen on Dec. 17.
The sheriff's department reported on Friday that investigators now believe Buzbee was a victim of foul play. Some of Buzbee's belongings were found following searches of Williams Road and Old Russellville Road last week.
A suspect, Christian Shanklin, has been identified, though investigators do not have sufficient evidence to make an arrest. A $2,500 reward for information leading to an arrest is being offered through WCSO.
The aviation division is part of a five-year plan announced by Sheriff Nick Smith in September.
"We were able to get this project off the ground sooner than expected thanks in large part to Deputy Ray Capps and Joey Sanders of Sanders Aviation. Sanders has helped coordinate our training and so many other things behind the scenes. We are very thankful for his help!" a post on the WCSO Facebook page read Wednesday.
Smith acquired three Bell OH-58C helicopters last year at no cost through the 1033 military surplus program. Two will be used as primary and secondary units, and the third can be used for parts.
Smith announced in December that five WCSO employees had been certified as tactical flight officers.
"The next phase is working toward getting somebody certified as a pilot. We have some people at other agencies who have volunteered to fly with us when necessary. Realistically, I think it could be off the ground in 2021 or by early 2022," Smith said at the time.
The helicopters will be used to help locate missing children, seniors with dementia or other diagnoses who have wandered off and other missing persons.
A newly established Walker County Law Enforcement Foundation, which is overseen by a three-member board, will provide funding for the program as well as oversight of the aviation division.