Hispanic Heritage Month: The NYPD's elite Aviation Unit

MARINE PARK, Brooklyn (WABC) -- In a city where there's no shortage of bad news, one man is trying to save lives and provide good headlines.

As part of our celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month, we're profiling the commander and the chief pilot of the NYPD's elite Aviation Unit.

Countless rescues and helicopter heroics are part of their daily reality.

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Newly promoted Suffolk County Police Deputy Chief Milagros Soto is the department's first Hispanic chief and the highest ranking woman in the department.

Detective Christian Delacruz is the unit's chief pilot.

"You take it for granted sometimes," he said. "But there's other times where I catch myself swiping through my phone and I find a picture, and I'm like, wow, that's a cool picture, yeah."

Delacruz has spent the last 11 years with the aviation unit, while Lieutenant Antonio Hernandez, a 21-year NYPD veteran, oversees the daily operations of a team that consists of more than 70 personnel and seven helicopters stationed at Floyd Bennett Field in Brooklyn.

Some of the unit's many responsibilities include patrol flights above high crime areas, over sensitive targets like bridges and landmarks, and air-sea rescues -- which bring a special sense of reward.

"Once it's going on, it's a little tense," Hernandez said. "But after it's over and it's successful, it's a good feeling afterwards."

Of the 73 members assigned to the aviation unit, more than a quarter are Latinos -- a number that continues to grow as young men and women see not only the attraction of the job but also the pioneers who came before them.

"To me, it's more of showing people that come from similar circumstances, similar backgrounds, that it is possible to achieve and be successful," Hernandez said.

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Bronx Community College offers a unique English as a Second Language program called CLIP, CUNY Language Immersion Program.

The 44-year-old dreamed of a career as an aeronautical engineer before earning his Bachelor's degree in aviation maintenance.

He and Detective Delacruz are the proud sons of Dominican parents who at one point questioned their career choice.

"My parents told me, 'You'll never be able to fly, that's not for us,'" Delacruz said. "'Find something else, flying is not for us.' It is for us."

And that, they say, is a message every Latino and every "Dreamer" should never forget.

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