Police Helicopter Pilot

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Two San Diego Sheriff Air Crew Members Receive Governor's Medal Of Valor Award

Deputies Scott Bligh and Gary Kneeshaw were among 13 California Public Safety Members to be awarded the Governor's Public Safety Medal of Valor on Wednesday September 14th, 2011.  Bligh and Kneeshaw earned the recognition from Governor Brown for one of the most daring law enforcement helicopter rescues in recent memory.  On August 21st, 2010 battled heavy smoke, flames, and embers blowing into the cockpit to rescue two trapped mountain climbers off the side of El Cajon Mountain near El Capitan Reservoir in San Diego County. 

The female climber was picked off the side of the mountain first in a "Toe In" maneuver after Deputy Kneeshaw climbed out of the helicopter and placed her in his seat.  Kneeshaw stayed behind with the male climber waiting for his partner and helicopter to return.  During the wait Kneeshaw and the male climber were almost overrun by fire and had to run across the face of the mountain to evade the flames.

Deputy Bligh fought through reduced visibility, smoke, and burning embers to fly back in and locate Kneeshaw and the male climber in their new location on the mountain.  At one point during the pick up Bligh received a low rotor rpm warning in the cockpit, indicating that the engine could be losing power. Bligh quickly recognized that the engine was still creating power and the momentary low rotor rpm was a result of the extreme flight conditions and demands on the helicopter.

After outrunning flames once, Deputy Kneeshaw made a quick decision to ride the skid of the helicopter out of the hot zone, a technique he had never practiced and had never trained for.  After loading the male climber into the front seat Kneeshaw stepped onto the skid and shouted at Bligh to take off.  With flames once again threatening the tail of the helicopter Bligh and Kneeshaw flew the remaining climber off the mountain and to safety.  You can read a more complete article on the rescue here.  

Man Who Shot At Escondido Police Officers and ASTREA Helicopter Sentenced To 34 Years

A man driving a stolen car, and in possession of stolen guns, who shot at Escondido Ca. Police Officers and the San Diego Sheriff's ASTREA Helicopter was recently sentenced to 34 years in State Prison.  While no officers or deputies were injured in the pursuit and shooting, Escondido Police Officer Ryan Banks uniform was grazed by a bullet, just missing his neck.  The pursuit began when an officer responded to a simple "suspicious person" call, of a subject who had been sitting in a vehicle in a neighborhood for several hours.  That man was Eric Anthony Pomatto 27.

Pomatto was in a stolen car and was in possession of two weapons he found in the car when he stole from a Starbucks in Chula Vista earlier that day.  Pomatto was essentially lying in wait for the father of his ex-girlfriend, whom he planned to kill.  During the pursuit Pomatto fired numerous rounds from both a shotgun and 9 MM pistol.  Some of those rounds were fired at the San Diego Sheriff's helicopter with Deputy-Pilots Gene Palos and Darren Dollard on board.  

You can read more on this story here.

Robber Convicted In 2009 Jewelry Store Heist: Sheriff's Helicopter Assisted On Call

I remember this call well.  I was the TFO on board the helicopter but I can't seem to remember who was flying on this day, perhaps Scott Sterner.  It was a sunny October morning in 2009 when we were called to assist Carlsbad Police Department with a jewelry store robbery.  

Carlsbad is a coastal city that enjoys a pretty low crime rate anyway.  As we arrived I was directed to the jewelry store by officers on the ground.  The store was the end unit of a rather long but quaint commercial building in the downtown area of Carlsbad known as the village.  

The primary Carlsbad PD officer requested that we check the roof since the robber seemed to emerge from the lady's restroom to commit his crimes, and then disappeared back into the lady's restroom after robbing the two employees who had just opened up shop.  Sure enough, peering through my stabilized binoculars I observed a definite hole in the roof of the business, not far from the back door.

The robber had been wearing a full mask and gloves, so there was very little description for law enforcement to go on at the time.  We did however conduct some PA announcements in the area in an attempt to find potential witnesses, who may have seen anything or anyone suspicious prior to the robbery.   

A short time later officers confirmed that there was a hole in the ceiling of the women's restroom.  A few minutes after that they announced that a mask, an airsoft gun, a bag and jewelry were found in the crawl space between the ceiling and the roof.  We stayed on scene for some time while officers cleared the crawl space, and surrounding businesses.  I could see why the robber might think it was smart to leave his gun and mask behind, but why would he leave some of the jewels behind?  Had officers arrived on scene while the suspect was still in the roof, causing him to abandon his loot?  Ultimately it would be DNA from the mask that would convict him.

Eventually it was determined that the suspect was most likely out of the area.  With nothing else for us to do, we went back into service and flew away thinking we had probably heard the last about the case. 

Imagine my surprise this morning when I ran across this article published just today in the San Diego Reader.  It seems our robber friend had a long history of similar criminal conduct.  So much so that the judge found it acceptable to sentence him to 50 years to life in prison for this robbery.  It's a great read!

Feds Don't Take Kindly To Messing With Aircraft

I am not sure what the atmosphere was like prior to September 11th 2001, but I can tell you that post 9/11 the Federal Bureau of Investigation takes any incidents of assaults on aircraft seriously.  Whether that is shooting at an aircraft, or pointing a laser at an aircraft.

Now to be honest, there are so many laser incidents that I don't really get excited about reporting them anymore.  You sometimes wonder if reporting them does more harm than good anyway.

Regardless, an Orlando Florida man just felt the wrath of the Federal Justice System when he was sentenced this week to 12 1/2 years in Federal Prison for shooting at an Orange County Florida Sheriff's helicopter back in March of 2010.  The suspect, 27 year old Jason Dennis McGuire, was presumably upset about the helicopter noise, but tried to convince the jury that he was suicidal and just fired the gun up in the air, and into a palm tree. 

Not buying his argument the jury convicted McGuire on charges of attempted destruction of an aircraft, being a convicted felon in possession of a firearm and for using a firearm during the commission of a violent crime. 

Twelve years in prison is a pretty serious (although well deserved) price to pay for one moment of felony stupidity. 

Source:  Orlando Sentinel

NTSB Releases Preliminary Report On Pima County Sheriff Helicopter Crash

While I know it is best to wait for the full report and all of the facts.  It is still human nature to ask what went wrong.  I am asking myself if this was a tail rotor strike.......

NTSB Identification: WPR11GA115
14 CFR Public Use
Accident occurred Monday, January 31, 2011 in Marana, AZ
Aircraft: MCDONNELL DOUGLAS HELI CO 369FF, registration: N530RL
Injuries: 1 Fatal, 2 Serious, 1 Minor.

This is preliminary information, subject to change, and may contain errors. Any errors in this report will be corrected when the final report has been completed.

On January 31, 2011, about 1115 mountain standard time, a McDonnell-Douglas 369FF helicopter, N530RL, was substantially damaged during an attempted pinnacle landing on Waterman Peak near Marana, Arizona. The pilot received fatal injuries, two passengers received serious injuries, and one passenger received minor injuries. The public-use flight was operated by the Pima County Sheriff's Department (PCSD) in support of the Pima County Wireless Integrated Network (PCWIN) communications development project. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed, and no flight plan was filed for the flight.

The purpose of the flight was to enable PCWIN personnel to conduct a site survey for the planned installation of a communications-repeater tower. The helicopter departed Tucson International Airport (TUS), Tucson, Arizona, about 1050, with the PCSD pilot/deputy in the left front seat, two Pima County employees in the right front and rear seats, and a private contractor in the left rear seat. Initially, the flight was in communication with, and being tracked by, TUS local and TRACON air traffic control (ATC) facilities as it headed for the peak, located about 30 miles west-northwest of TUS.

The 1053 TUS recorded weather observation included winds from 300 degrees at 9 knots with gusts to 16 knots; visibility 10 miles; and a broken cloud layer at 7,000 feet.

The passengers reported that during the landing attempt, the helicopter either bounced or the pilot lifted off again, the nose pitched down, and then the helicopter began to spin to the right.

The helicopter tumbled and slid about 120 feet down the northeast face of the peak before it was halted by rocks and scrub vegetation.

A ground-based witness located about 1,000 feet west of and below the peak stated that the helicopter completed about four or five rotations before it disappeared from his view.

Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) records indicated that the pilot held a commercial pilot certificate with rotorcraft-helicopter and instrument-helicopter ratings, and a private pilot certificate with airplane single and multiengine land ratings. According to the pilot's personal flight log, he had approximately 11,500 total hours of flight experience, most of which was in helicopters. His first recorded flight in the accident helicopter make and model was in August 2008, and he had logged about 186 total hours in that equipment. In January 2011, excluding the accident flight, the pilot logged 6 flights, for a total of 7.5 hours, in the accident helicopter make and model. His most recent FAA second-class medical certificate was issued in February 2010. According to PCSD information, the pilot joined PCSD in November 2008, and had about 30 years experience flying helicopters for the Arizona Department of Public Safety and the Maricopa County Sheriff's Department.

The helicopter was manufactured in 1998, and was registered to Pima County in 2008. The helicopter's most recent annual inspection was completed in April 2010, and it had accumulated about 115 hours in service between that inspection and the accident. The helicopter was equipped with an Allison (Rolls-Royce) 250-C30 series turbine engine.

During the follow-up investigation, the engine was removed and prepared for a test-run. During the test run, the engine developed rated power, and engine performance exceeded minimum values for overhauled engines, and no anomalies were noted.

Tragedy Strikes Pima County (AZ) Sheriff's Aviation Unit

Pima County Sheriff's MD530F & Helio Courier aircraft. This appears to be the same helicopter involved in the fatal crash on Monday.A Pima County Arizona Sheriff's Department helicopter with four souls on board crashed Monday morning around 1130 am while scouting an area for new communication towers.  The pilot, Loren Leonberger 60, was fatally injured in the crash.  Of the three other occupants on board the helicopter two were reported to be in serious condition and on was reported to be in critical condition. 

The civilian pilot, Leonberger, first flew helicopters with the U.S. Army in Vietnam in 1970.  Prior to coming to work for the Pima County Sheriff's Department he worked as a helicopter pilot for the Maricopa County Sheriff's Department.  The crash occurred approximately 40 miles northwest of Tucson International airport in a rugged area of Waterman Mountain, in the Ironwood Forest National Monument area.  The exact circumstances of the crash are uncertain at this time according to the FAA.

After the crash one passenger identified as Edwin Nettleton (58), a radio engineer, called 911 to report the crash and advise that he was afraid the helicopter wreckage would fall over a cliff if he attempted to climb out.  He also expressed his concern about fire.  Nettleton told dispatchers that he suffered a broken wrist in the crash.

According the rescuers on scene the helicopter did apparently tumble 100 to 150 yards down the side of the mountain before it came to rest against a tree. 

While the helicopter crash investigation is in the very early stages and it is unknown if weather played a factor, there were some reports of a hail storm approximately 3 miles from the crash site, around the time of the crash.  However, records at the Marana airport, closest to the crash site showed that winds there were calm.  

In the past the Pima County Sheriff's Department operated one MD 530F helicopter, which the same make and model helicopter reported to be involved in the crash. 

The MD 500 series helicopter is a reliable, and rugged 4 passenger helicopter well suited for off field and rescue work in- rugged terrain.  The MD 530F is the preferred patrol helicopter for many agencies including the San Diego Sheriff's Department.  One of the things that makes the MD530F popular among pilots is it's reputation for survivability in crashes. 

The Pima County Sheriff's Department Aviation Unit was featured in an article here at Police Helicopter Pilot.com back in January of 2010. 

Police Helicopter Pilot sends it's condolences to the family of the pilot, Loren Leonberger.  RIP

Massive Midnight Power Outage Proves Eerie Experience For Sheriff's Helicopter Crew.

Night flying whether in a civilian or law enforcement aircraft is often very enjoyable.  The air is smooth, there is generally less air traffic, many control towers are closed, and the city lights can almost appear as diamonds spilled onto a carpet of black velvet for the eyes to behold. 

For low level night pilots these lights make up distinct patterns that the brain becomes dependant upon for instantly calculating your altitude, location, and direction of travel, along with the helicopter's instruments of course.  Neighborhoods, mountains, malls, streets, freeways, buildings and towers are illuminated or outlined by lights providing constant feedback to the senses.  All of these lighting cues are then greatly enhanced by donning a pair of night vision goggles.  I have often thought how much more difficult night time navigation would be if there was a total and complete blackout in the area you are flying over. 

Well shortly after midnight last night my partner and I experienced just that when a massive power outage began spreading across San Diego County.  According to SDGE the California Independent System Operator asked them to curtail 310 mega watts of power due to an emergency in the power grid.  The exact emergency was not identified at the time. 

We were working a missing person call over Casa De Oro when I glanced west toward Lemon Grove.  Instead of seeing the familiar lights of Lemon Grove however I saw what my brain told me was New York's Central Park at night time.  A large swath of darkness bordered by lights on all sides.  It takes a couple of seconds to figure out why the view out of the cockpit doesn't look like it is supposed to, or like it did on the last orbit.  We watched as the blackout spread to large parts of Spring Valley, Imperial Beach, Mount Helix, portions of El Cajon, all of downtown Lakeside and parts of La Mesa.  At least those were the communities that we could see were effected, from our vantage point in the helicopter.

While I never lost situational awareness, and there was never a total and complete blackout, the loss of large swaths of ground lights without question demanded slightly greater focus.  A quick check of the altimeter revealed that the helicopter had surreptitiously entered auto climb and I was now flying 300' higher than I was a few minutes ago.  One of the little tricks your brain pulls on you when you start denying it the visual cues it is used to receiving.  It was not all bad as the near full moon and the NVG's revealed plenty of the darkened terrain and city below, just in a different format. 

My TFO partner announced what was without question about to occurr.  The onslaught of commercial burglary alarms that were going to flood into the communications center and out to the field units due to power interruption.  Sure enough, we only had to wait a few minutes for the first bank vault alarm to come in. 

After about 30-40 minutes of monitoring the dark areas and assisting on alarm calls, we watched as the lights came back on one neighborhood at a time.  It was quite a unique show and with the possible exception of the SDPD ABLE helicopter crew, we had the best seat in the house. 

"10-9 Was That A Hot Prowl Burglary Or A Hot Owl Burglary?"

I don't know about the rest of the country but in California a "Hot Prowl" burglary is police lingo for a burglary that is occurring while the homeowner is present inside the home.  This type of burglary is not that uncommon.  It typically happens in the day time when a burglar thinks the residents are away for the day.  Perhaps he knocked on the front door, didn't get an immediate response from inside the home, so he feels safe to break and enter and begin fulfilling his thieving ambitions.  There are times however when the homeowner is fully cognizant of the fact that someone is breaking in, and they have retreated upstairs or to a back bedroom and locked themselves in, while dialing 911.  That is how your typical hot prowl burglary unfolds.

So there we were last week, 20 minutes before "end of shift" when the radio crackled and we were requested for a "hot prowl" in Bonita, a somewhat upscale community in the South Bay.  Now hot prowl burglaries do occur at night also, but they are more rare, and they are a different breed.  A night time residential burglar should have an expectation that the homeowner is actually home.  Some night time burglars are driven by perverse sexual fantasies, while others seek the thrill and danger of breaking into a home and committing their criminal acts under the noses of the sleeping residents.

While it is foolish and even dangerous to make assumptions, it is also human nature and "cop nature" to rapidly process and to some extent make judgements on all the pieces of information flowing in about a certain call.  Tiny bits of information combined with years of patrol experience and sometimes a little intuition can often give the street cop a good idea if a call is ultimately going to be valid, or bogus.  Either way, you respond to the call as if it is 100% valid until you know absolutely otherwise.

Day or night, a hot prowl burglary is an emergency.  We wasted no time strapping ourselves into the helicopter and getting a south departure from runway 17/35.  It was coming up on 2:00 am when we arrived on scene.  The two story home was now completely surrounded by deputies, at least one Sheriff's K9, and now a Sheriff's helicopter orbiting 700' overhead.  Dispatch was still on land-line with the caller, who advised that they were still hearing noises coming from inside their house, downstairs. 

This is where cop intuition dangerously starts to suggest that this call might not be valid.  What are the chances that all of the patrol deputies, the K9 handler, and the helicopter could get on scene and set up while the hot prowl burglar is still inside the house.  No, in a real burglary the suspect would have been fleeing over the back fence just prior to the first deputy arriving on scene.   That's just the way these things tend to go down. 

The patrol deputies continue to do an excellent job of gathering intel from the caller as they have all along, via dispatch.  Who else is supposed to be in the house?  Do they have any children?  Were they expecting anyone else?  Etc.  All of the responses indicated that no one else should be there.  There is one daughter who is at a friends house.  Deputies obtain a description of the daughter's car and confirm that it is not in the driveway.  

A deputy advises that he can see "movement" in the downstairs portion of the house, through a window.  Silence.

Then, Deputy:  "Ask the caller if they own a bird of any kind."  Dispatch:  "Negative, the R/P is saying they do not own any type of bird."  Silence.

At last, Deputy:  "Ok, advise the R/P that they have a very large barn owl inside their house."

Exactly how the owl gained entry is unknown to this writer.

Hot owl burglary?  I guess that depends on the criminal intent of the owl. 

Looking For An Outstanding Patrol Aircraft Without The Operating Cost of A Helicopter? Look No Further Than The Pima Co. Sheriff's Helio Courier

Pima Sheriff's second Helio Turboprop Conversion, Tricycle Gear was added later.While fixed wing aircraft are undeniably the first police aircraft to take to the air, the helicopter has long since taken over as the preferred law enforcement aircraft of choice, for obvious reasons.  But is it smart to ignore the capabilities of some fixed wing aircraft as a primary patrol platform?  You might be surprised at what one Arizona Sheriff’s Department has been able to accomplish.   

In 1999 Sgt. Rick Pearson of the Pima County (AZ) Sheriff’s Department was tasked by his command to come up with a patrol support aircraft.  The only caveat was that it had to be cheaper to procure and operate than a traditional helicopter. 

Pearson almost immediately had an answer,  a fixed wing Helio Courier STOL aircraft.  Pearson had prior experience flying Helio airplanes and new that they had a stall speed in the high 20’s and could take off in 300’ with no head wind and at max gross weight.  Sgt. Pearson also knew that the Helio Courier had been used as a forward observation aircraft during the Vietnam era, and that hard points could be installed under the wings to mount a FLIR camera.  It was the perfect aircraft as far as he was concerned.

In 1999 the Pima County Sheriff’s Dept. purchased a 1974 model Helio Courier HT-295, and set about making the necessary upgrades to put it into service as a patrol support aircraft.  By early 2000 “Survey One” took to the air with a fresh coat of paint and a fresh engine overhaul.  It didn’t take long for the Pima County Sheriff’s Dept. to know that they had made the right decision going with the Helio Courier.  The aircraft flew an average of 5.5 hours a night, required little maintenance and had an operational cost of approximately $100 per hour. 

As great as this patrol aircraft was, the members of the Air Support Unit recognized that it could be better.  Over the next several years the Pima Sheriff’s Air Support Unit would convert this aircraft to a turboprop, then acquire a second Helio Courier and convert it as well.  This makes the Pima County Sheriff’s Department the owners of the only two Helio HT-420 aircraft in the entire country!

The turbine engine used for the conversion was the Rolls Royce C-20 with the B-17c turboprop conversion.  Now this was not the first time a Helio Courier had been converted to a turboprop.  A 1967 conversion “B-15” version of the engine resulted in 320 shaft horse power, but it actually underperformed the piston engine at higher altitudes.  The B-17c conversion results in 420 shaft horse power.

R.R. C-20 Turboprop engine being installed.So what kind of performance do they get with their turboprop Helio Courier?  How about a take off roll of 100’ at 87% torque, a landing roll of 50’,  a minimum forward air speed of about 30 knots IAS, 20 gallons per hour at loiter speed, and the ability to loiter for several hours longer than any LE pilot wants to stay in the air.  But there is more, at loiter speed (which is 70-80 kts) the prop only turns at about 1700 rpm resulting in little tip noise, and a very quiet aircraft above the city.  No who could use less noise complaints right?  Top speed for the aircraft is about 140-150 kias at 8500’ msl.

One of the first flights after the Turboprop Conversion.Both Helio Courier turboprops are outfitted with a FLIR Star Saffire III camera making them a true stand off “eye in the sky.”  Deputies in the cockpit of one of these aircraft are capable of monitoring a police call from several miles away, often without the bad guy or even the general public even knowing they are there. 

So what is the cost of such an aircraft?  Here are some numbers provided by Sgt. Pearson for their second aircraft.

Airframe:  $150,000
R.R. C-20 Turbine Engine:  $250,000
Total Conversion:  $450,000
FLIR Star Saffire Camera:  $450,000
Aero Computers Moving Map:  $100,000
Direct Operating Cost:  About $170 an hour. (about 1/3 of a Bell 206B3)

Sgt. Pearson notes that their program has been so successful, the budget for the Pima County Sheriff’s Air Support Unit was actually increased this year.  This is noteworthy in a time when many police air units are facing budget cuts.

The Pima County Sheriff’s Helio HT-420 aircraft are operated under “Public Use” aircraft rules.
While the aircraft may not be FAA certified, only factory parts were used in the conversion and FAA standards were followed as closely as possible. 

Any department or agency interested in acquiring and converting their own Helio aircraft for patrol can contact Sgt. Pearson if they have further questions.

rick.pearson@sheriff.pima.gov 

Police Helicopter Pilot.com would like to thank Sgt. Pearson for his cooperation, information and photos that made this article possible. 

All Pima Sheriff pilots are IFR Certified, and benefit from this all glass panel.

Mountain Top Death Challenges Sheriff's Helicopter Crew

San Diego Sheriff's Bell 407 helicopter. Rocky Laws photo.On a recent November evening the San Diego Sheriff's patrol helicopter and crew were called upon to assist with a possible suicidal subject at the summit of Iron Mountain, near Poway Ca. 

The Iron Mountain Peak is a very popular hike in San Diego County due to it's close proximity to civilization, and the fact that it is a moderate hike that can be accomplished in about 3-4 hours.  From the parking area to the peak is about 5.6 miles round trip, and a 1,000 foot rise in elevation.  The Iron Mountain summit is 2684' msl.  On any given morning one can find 20-30 cars parked at the trail head off of Hwy 67. 

On this particular evening the Sheriff's Communications Center received a call from a subject who advised that there was a body at the summit on Iron Mountain.  There was something about the conversation that lead the dispatcher to suspect that the subject was reporting his own death.  The dispatcher asked the caller if he was the body, and the caller indicated that he was.  At some point the call was lost, and the Sheriff's patrol helicopter was launched. 

A short time later the night crew arrived at the mountain's summit in their Bell 407 helicopter, to discover a single male at the only picnic table on the mountain.  The subject was non responsive to the presence of the helicopter, the spot light, or the PA announcements from the crew.  No weapon could be seen, and there was no way to assess the subject's medical status from the helicopter.  Also, there was no LZ at the summit suitable for landing the larger, 7 passenger, Bell 407. 

In addition to airborne law enforcement, sheriff's helicopter crews often find themsevles at the center of coordinating people and resources in order to accomplish the mission at hand.  This helicopter crew was suddenly faced with the challenge of getting the right people and resources to the top of the mountain, in the darkness, in order to assess the subject's condition and bring the matter to a safe conclusion.  In a typical situation such as this, law enforcement almost always enters the scene first, secures any weapons and makes the scene safe for medical personnel to enter and render aid to the victim. 

In this case the crew set about coordinating with the responding ground units, San Diego Fire Rescue Helicopter (Copter 1) and eventually the Medical Examiner Investigator.  The first responding ground deputy was picked up and flown to a Cal-Fire LZ equipped with a metal landing pad, located about half way between the parking area and the mountain summit.  From here the TFO and the ground deputy began the one hour hike to the summit. 

At the same time the pilot coordinated with San Diego Fire Rescue to conduct a night hoist operation once the scene at the summit was deemed safe.  San Diego Fire Rescue would insert a paramedic to assess the victim and provide medical attention if necessary.

Upon reaching the summit the responding TFO and deputy found that the subject was indeed suffering from an apparent self inflicted gunshot wound, and a weapon was recovered.  The San Diego Fire Rescue Helicopter lowered their paramedic who assessed the victim and found no signs of life.  Now began the wait for the Medical Examiner Investigator to respond. 

Once the M.E. Investigator arrived at the trail head parking area, she too was picked up and flown to the Cal-Fire LZ.  She then began the one hour hike to the summit, accompanied by the pilot.  At the conclusion of her on scene investigation the victim was prepared for transport by helicopter.

The San Diego Fire Rescue Helicopter responded back to the scene and conducted a basket lift of the victim, who was then transferred to M.E. personnel waiting at the trail head.  Finally, the helicopter crew, ground deputy, and M.E. Investigator could begin their hike back to the Cal-Fire LZ and their return flight to the trail head.   

This incident is another excellent example of the vital role helicopters play in modern law enforcement and public safety.  Not only do helicopters save lives, but they solve problems. Even with the assistance of two helicopters, this incident took almost 6 hours to resolve.  Excellent job Deputies Joyce and Kaupe and thanks to San Diego Fire Rescue for their assistance!

Do you know what to do if you suspect someone is suicidal?  Learn more by following this link, suicide prevention.

Night Helicopter Photo Separates The Pros from the Amateurs

MD500 night shot, Dan Megna photo.This photo taken by retired deputy/pilot Dan Megna has been setting on my computer for many months just waiting for the right story or article to couple it with.  Tired of waiting, I finally decided that the photo is just too nice to sit around in an electronic folder.  So here it is, with permission of the owner of course.

The location is the San Marcos Sheriff's Station heli-pad at dusk.  Your host is in the pilot's seat with the NVG friendly green lip light illuminated.  As the picture attest, this was no "point and shoot" photo but rather a carefully choreographed dance between lighting and spinning rotors.  It is a far cry from the many amateur photos on this site (taken by yours truly) that I am sure are capable of making most professional photographers cringe.  The photo was taken in support of a helicopter magazine article written by Dan.  

See more of Dan's work at www.danmegna.com

Also check out the photo gallery for a larger version of the same photo.

Shine Laser at Aircraft Go To Federal Prison!

I don't seem to recall exactly when hand held lasers became both cheap and popular, but since that time I would guess that there are few law enforcement helicopter crews in the country (probably throughout the world) who have not been hit with a laser at least once.  I have been in the cockpit at least three occasions when a laser beam began bouncing off of the windscreen, instrument panel, etc. 

There are multiple reasons why shining a laser (even a flashlight) at an aircraft is prohibited by both state and federal law, beginning with potential damage to the eye that a laser can cause.  Regardless, it seems that there are still plenty of people who are willing to direct their hand held laser or flashlight at an airliner or even a police helicopter with little thought that they really, really, might end up in prison.

Enter 30 year old Baltazar Valladares of Roseville Ca., near Sacramento, who was just sentenced to 37 months in Federal prison this week for targeting both a South West Airline flight coming into Sacramento International Airport, and a short time later hitting the Sacramento Sheriff's Helicopter with the same laser. 

Apparently the crew of the Sacramento Sheriff's helicopter was a little sharper than what Valladares expected as they quickly pinpointed the laser as coming from his residence.  It was not long before Roseville Police were knocking on his door, and subsequently conducting a legal search of his residence.  The laser was located in two separate pieces, hidden in two separate locations within the residence. 

The investigation into the incident was continued by the FBI as well as Roseville Police Dept., and even the Federal Air Marshals Service since it involved a passenger airliner.  The end result was the sentencing announced this week by U.S. Attorney Lawrence G. Brown.  Mr. Valladares will spend 37 months in Federal prison, followed by 3 years of supervised release.  I am sure that Valladares' prior criminal record did not do him any favors in avoiding a federal prison sentence.

Most police helicoper crews are now operating on night vision goggles.  Which means that shining a flashlight at a law enforcement helicopter is just as disruptive as a laser, considering the goggles are magnifying the light somewhere around 30,000 times.  Normally a stern warning over the P.A. of their pending felony arrest is enough to stop the behavior, but it distracts the crew and takes important time away from the police mission which very often involves searching for a violent fleeing felon. Unfortunately crime is inconvenient to everyone.

Let's hope that someday people will actually start to make the connection in their brain;  "Shine a laser or light at an aircraft, EXPECT to go to jail."

Los Angeles Sheriff's Helicopter Called Upon to Transport Body of Pop King

So there I was on my day off, watching some of the breaking coverage of the untimely death of Mr. Michael Jackson when into the picture swoops a rather large green helicopter with the word "Sheriff" on the side.  The reporter began explaining that the helicopter was there to transport the body of Michael Jackson from the hospital to the Coroners officer due to the clogged streets and throngs of people who had gathered at the hospital.

I must admit that the my very first thought was that this was really "over the top" and that someone somewhere was making an even bigger spectacle out of Mr. Jackson's death than what circumstances called for.  Not to take anything away from Michael Jackson, but to send a very large rescue helicopter at tax payers expense to transport his remains, seemed to be playing right into the media hype and extravagance. 

It was not long however before I realized that it was probably a very smart decision which solved a huge problem for a number of high level decision makers in numerous Los Angeles City and County Departments, (Police, Sheriff, Public Works, Coroner, etc.).  The problem was blatantly obvious.  How do you get Mr. Jackson's body from the hospital to the coroners office without bringing the surrounding city streets to a standstill, and really creating a spectacle.  Not only do helicopters save lives, but they solve problems, and the presence of this helicopter and crew surely helped in solving a few logistical problems that suddenly befell the county and city governments yesterday.

So just who was this helicopter and crew that received world wide media coverage when they were called upon to transport Mr. Jackson's body?

While I don't have exact names it appears to be the Los Angeles Sheriff's "Air Rescue 5" unit flying one of their Sikorsky H3 Sea King helicopters.  The Air Rescue 5 program provides search and rescue capabilities for Los Angeles County California and is arguably one of the most elite civilian helicopter operations in the world.  Each H3 Sea King is staffed by two deputy sheriff pilots, one sergeant/crew chief, and two Emergency Service Detail deputy paramedics. 

I guess even in the air unit you never know what the day will bring when you show up to work for the start of your shift.