Police Helicopter Pilot

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NTSB Updates Factual Report On Fatal CHP Air Crash

 CHP Officer Dan Benivides Pictured with his Cessna T206.

On February 23, 2011 the NTSB updated it's Factual Report on the fatal crash of a CHP Fixed Wing Cessna aircraft that crashed on May the 7th 2010 while on patrol in the area of Borrego Springs California.  

The pilot and sole occupant, CHP Officer Dan Benivides (39), stopped communicating with dispatch after working a speed detail with ground units.  A report of smoke eventually led searchers to the crash site on the side of a mountain in the area of Borrego Springs, in the north eastern portion of San Diego County.  Officer Benivides was fatally injured in the crash.

According to the NTSB's February 23rd update, Officer Benivides likely suffered a "cardiac event" prior to the crash, according to the San Diego County Coronor's Office.  The NTSB's factual report reads in part;

"In the medical examiner's opinion section of the report it states ".. it is possible that a cardiac event due to fibrosis and/or ischemia due to his longstanding coronary arthrosclerosis could have precipitated the crash." Updated on Feb 23 2011 2:00PM"

The following excerpt from the NTSB report talks about the final 4 minutes or so of the airplane's radar track just prior to the accident. 

"At 0940:43, the track turns southwest on a steady course of 225 degrees magnetic at 1,200 feet msl. This route was away from the highway and towards the rising mountainous terrain. The final radar return was at 0943:55, 1.7 miles northeast of the accident location. The accident location is located directly on the extended course line of 225 degrees from the last radar return, at the 1,070-foot elevation level. The highest terrain elevation in the vicinity of the accident site is 1,500 feet msl." 

The aircraft was also equipped with an auto pilot and according to CHP Officials the pilots are encouraged to use the auto pilot to lessen workload. 

The radar data coupled with the information from the San Diego County Coroner's Officer certainly leads one to conclude that the crash was most likely the result of a medical incapacitation of the pilot.  While this in no way lessens the tragedy of the loss of Officer Benivides, his family and co-workers can know that the crash was probably not pilot error, and that Officer Benivides was a professional and capable pilot and CHP Officer.

The following excerpt is from the Police Helicopter News Page and was written by me in the days following the crash:

"Officer Danny Benavides attended the 2005 CHP Air Crew course in San Diego with this writer.  Officer Benavides is the second law enforcement officer from the class of 2005 to lose his life in an air crash, the first being Deputy Kevin Patrick Blount of the Sacramento Sheriff's Office killed in the crash of his Eurocopter EC-120 helicopter on July 13th 2005.  The cause of that crash was determined to be a fuel control valve that was installed backwards at the factory.  Since 2005 Officer Benavidez had stopped into ASTREA base in his CHP fixed wing on several occassions all of which involved great conversation, swapping of airborne law enforcement stories, and a many laughs.  On at least one occassion I had taken over a vehicle pursuit from Officer Benavidez south bound on the I-15.  His voice was one that I could always recognize when it came up on the air.  It will be missed.  Police Helicopter Pilot.com sends it's condolences to the Benavides family."


Tactical Pants.com Interviews the Host of Police Helicopter Pilot.com

A while back I was contacted by a lady who writes the blog for www.tacticalpants.com  asking if I would be interested in doing a small interview.  Of course I said yes right away.  Any publicity is good publicity right?  What caught me by surprise was just how well the blog was written.  Who would have thought a blog about Tactical Pants would be at all interesting?  Well I can tell you this lady does a fantastic job.  Worthy of checking out.  Makes me want to go buy a pair of tactical pants! 

Here is a thought though.  I am a huge fan of cargo pants.  But trying to find good looking cargo pants at a reasonable price is almost a full time job.  Perhaps I sould start looking for tactical pants instead of cargo pants? 

Here is a link to the interview at the Tactical Pants Blog. 

So What's The Real Story Behind All Those Wacky Mesa Police Helicopter Videos On Youtube?

One of the main purpose of this site has always been to promote police aviation to the general public in a positive way.  In so doing I normally tend to avoid controversial subjects to the extent possible.  Not because I don’t want to take on a cause, but it just doesn’t play into the overall theme of the site. 

But every now and then something comes along that I just can’t turn a blind eye to.  Such is the case with a series of  rather silly, if not outright wacky videos on Youtube all about the Mesa Arizona Police Helicopter, Mesa Police Pilots, or the Mesa Police Air Support Unit.

In many ways this is an old story……as I will outline for you.  Why drag up old news right?  The problem is that while the story itself is somewhat stale, the videos live on in cyberspace ready to spring to life the moment someone does an internet search related to the Mesa Police Helicopter, or the Mesa Police Department’s Air Support Unit.  And since January of 2008, this often redundant series of videos has been viewed over 63,000 times, according to data from Youtube.   Some of the videos have since been reposted to other video sharing sites such as AOL video. 

And come to life they do with inflammatory titles such as;

“Mesa Police Helicopter Pilot Caught With Pants Down!”

“Mesa Police Helicopter Pilot Busted!!”

“Mesa Police Helicopter Pilot Caught Giving It Hard All on Tape!!”

“Mesa Helicopter Pilots Terrorize A Innocent Woman!”

And the list of titles goes on and on until it reaches  25. 

The purpose of this article is not to attack the author of these videos.  Rather it is to provide balance for anyone who is seeking legitimate information online about the Mesa Police Air Support Unit. 

Take for example the one title “Mesa Police Helicopter Pilot Caught With Pants Down!”  While used in a euphemistic fashion, it’s real purpose is to accuse and inflame.  When one clicks on the video however you get nothing more than 9 plus minutes of MD Helicopter rotor noise on four fixed cameras, and an occasional distant light from the helicopter.   It should be apparent to any observer (or listener) of the video that the helicopter is in a fairly wide orbit, as the rotor noise becomes louder and quieter depending on where the helicopter is at in the orbit.  No notable evidence of any wrongdoing and certainly nothing that rises to the euphemistic level of “getting caught with your pants down.”

The title “Mesa Police Helicopter Pilot Caught Giving It Hard.  All On Tape!”  makes one really begin to wonder about the author’s state of mind.  In this 4:56 second video you are treated to about 2 minutes of silence, 30 seconds of fairly close MD Helicopter rotor noise, and about 2 minutes of barely audible rotor noise, again on a split screen of 4 fixed cameras.  Not quite sure what the pilot was supposed to be “giving it hard” to. 

In at least one of the videos it appears the author is in his vehicle chasing the Mesa Police Helicopter through the city streets, while instructing and encouraging a child in the vehicle to get the helicopter on video. 

In order to have a better understanding of what is really going on here, we need to go back  to November of 2006.  A Mesa Police Helicopter and crew is working a police call which happens to put the helicopter in the same neighborhood as one David Degroote (about 37 at the time).  The police helicopter wasn’t on some run of the mill misdemeanor, but was actively involved in a search for suspects in the theft of a bank automated teller machine.  At least one of the crew members were wearing NVG goggles to aid in both the search and flight safety.  While in the area of the Degroote residence the helicopter and crew were hit with a high powered spot light, for approximately 30 seconds, (remember that NVGs amplify ambient light at anywhere between 10,000 and 40,000 times.)  A bright spotlight shining on the police helicopter at night time is absolutely disruptive, dangerous and without question rises to the level of interfering with a law enforcement officer in the performance of his duties. 

In the coming weeks David Degroote would be arrested by the Mesa Police Department for shining the light at their Helicopter.  On 1-16-07 a criminal complaint was issued against Degroote for the misdemeanor charges of Endangerment, Disorderly Conduct and being a Criminal Nuisance.  At the time of his arrest and at the time the complaint was issued not one of  the 25 videos about the Mesa Police Helicopter or pilots had been uploaded to Youtube.  The 25 videos in question have all been posted under the Youtube user name of “justjumpnow.”

Let me pause here and say that Mr. Degroote could very well have had a legitimate noise complaint against the Mesa Police Helicopter.  Helicopters are admittedly noisy, and tend to annoy some people more than others.  Most law enforcement aviation units are well aware of the noise emitted by their helicopters and most take noise complaints from the public seriously.  Many law enforcement air support units go so far as to avoid noise sensitive areas all together when possible.  If Mr. Degroote did have a legitimate noise complaint in this case, it appears that he chose not to follow up on it in a professional and courteous manner and instead placed himself in a position of committing a criminal act. 

According to Degroote himself, on 12-6-06 (between the date of the alleged incident and the date the criminal complaint was issued) he filed an injunction [against harassment] against Officer David Dolenar Jr and the Mesa Police Department.  The injunction was never granted by the court.  However, on 2-1-07 Officer Dolenar filed an injunction to stop harassment, against David Degroote.  On 3-21-07 the injunction was issued by the court.  The court essentially agreed that Mr. Degroote was harassing Officer Dolenar.  (Source-  Letter published by the Degroote’s on the website Freedomsphoenix.com.)  I am intentionally not linking to the site, but it is there if you want to go searching for it.

One year later, in November of 2007 David Degroote was convicted of the misdemeanor charges of  Endangerment, Disorderly Conduct, and Criminal Nuisance, according to a story in the East Valley Tribune dated Nov 9 2007.  Degroote was ordered to serve 5 days in jail, with another 25 days suspended on the condition that he completes 3 years of probation and that he completes mandatory counseling. 

One of the videos posted by “justjumpnow” is of the local News 5 TV station doing a story about Degroote’s conviction and his ongoing feud with the Mesa Police Department.  Even while the story equally covers his conviction and his complaints, the video was titled “Mesa Police Illegal Helicopter Activity Revealed on News 5.”  Huh?

The first video about the Mesa Police Helicopter was not uploaded to Youtube until 1-14-08, after Degroote’s conviction and after he was ordered by the court to stop harassing Officer Dolenar.  The last video was uploaded on 9-1-08.  The on screen dates on the videos indicate that all but one of them was filmed in 2006 or 2007 with the vast majority being filmed in 2007.

Interestingly, there has been no activity and no logins by “justjumpnow” for over a year on his Youtube channel.  Perhaps this is due to the fact that Mr. Degroote remains on probation until around November of 2010.  If I had to guess I would guess that his Youtube activities were brought to the attention of his probation officer and or the judge, and he risked going back to jail if he continued, (pure speculation on my part.) 

Can a judge curtail someone’s freedom of speech in this manner while on probation.  Absolutely, by accepting probation in lieu of more jail time the defendant agrees to give up certain liberties, which can vary from case to case.  People routinely give up their 4th amendment rights to unreasonable search and seizure, (generally when on felony probation or when the crime involved a theft.)  It would be completely reasonable for the judge to prohibit Degroote from uploading inflammatory videos on Youtube, about the Mesa Police Helicopter, while he is on probation. 

I also noted that 9 of the videos were filmed on either 2-21-07 or 2-22-07 and some of them just before and just after midnight.  This would lead a normal person to believe that at least some of these 9 videos stem from one incident, or one radio call the Mesa Police Helicopter was involved in. 

So there you have it.  I will let you decide if Mr. Degroote and his family were targeted for harassment by the members of the Mesa Police Air Support Unit, or if Degroote embarked on a misguided campaign of filming and posting videos to Youtube as a way to get back at the police for his arrest and conviction. 

It seems to this writer that Mr. Degroote could have avoided a lot of heartache by going into the police station and having a friendly chat with the person in charge of the air unit, instead of picking up a spotlight.