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."