On Thursday evening February 19th at about 7:35 pm a Border Patrol MD600 (Notar) helicopter made an emergency autorotational landing in the surf near the San Onofre Nuclear power plant in the northern part of San Diego County, just south of the Orange County Line. With three souls on board, two pilots and a mechanic, all escaped with minor injuries.
Through the Law Enforcement Aviation "grape vine" some rather erie details have emerged. This information has not been confirmed and in a court of law would be considered double hearsay and thus not inadmissible. But this is what I have learned.
A Border Patrol MD600 helicopter with two pilots and one mechanic flew from San Diego County up to Long Beach to pick up an MD500 and ferry it back to San Diego. During the return flight the MD500 helicopter's oil pressure went to "zero"so a precautionary landing was made near a Naval Weapons Installation on the coast, just south of Long Beach.
The MD500 was left there overnight until the problem could be fully diagnosed the following day. So the crew of two pilots and one mechanic re-entered the MD600 to return to their base in San Diego.
The coast line is a popular transition route between San Diego County and Orange County for helicopter and probably fixed wing pilots. Camp Pendleton, (an active USMC Installation) and the San Onofre Nuclear Power plant are both situated on the coast in Northern San Diego County. Many student and instructor helicopter pilots have used this route as they travel to Long Beach for their helicopter check rides at Long Beach Airport.
The BP MD600 was south bound along the coast near the power plant when the ECC Fadec light illuminated indicating a decaying Fadec system- possibly a fuel system failure. This was followed immediately by a loud bang and a violent yaw to the right. The back seat passenger indicated that they were on fire. The PIC entered a 180 degree auto for the surf line. Without the aid of NVG's the piloted performed an autorotation (in the dark) to about 3' of surf and impacted hard but remained upright.
One witness on the ground said that he heard a loud boom and saw sparks coming from the tail end of the helicopter. The three occupants were hospitalized but apparently with only minor injuries.
So what about the first MD500? The following day a crew went to examine and retrieve the MD500 from the Naval Weapons Installation. Upon inspecting the aircraft they learned the turbine engine was in the process of coming apart, and they landed just before complete engine failure.
Now what are the chances of two turbine helicopter engines, on a flight of two, both experiencing engine failure or near engine failure in such close proximity of each other. The odds of this happening are very rare indeed. Better is that the crew of three survived both incidents.
Those of us that fly MD Helicopters every day are very loyal to this particular flying machine, and have a tremendous amount of faith in them. As rare as these two incidents are, they do not detract from my confidence in MD helicopters. One could easily reason that it was the quick thinking and reaction of the crew in both incidents as well as the robust platform of the MD helicopter that prevented fatal injuries. Now why two separate turbine engines in two separate helicopters, on a flight of two, would both decide to stop working as designed, who knows. I could not even begin to speculate.
As previously stated, this information is preliminary and unconfirmed. We will have to wait and see what the NTSB learns during their full investigation.
In the world of helicopter pilots there is a saying. Once the engine quits the helicopter is now trying to kill you. Your number one goal is to be able to get out and walk away. Damage to the helicopter is secondary. The pilots and passengers of both of these helicopters were able to walk away from both events. Job well done!
No photos available at this time, but here is a link to news story on the BP MD600 Crash Landing.