‘Huge Sigh of Relief:’ Sacramento County Deputies Walk Away From Helicopter Emergency

Dec. 12, 2022

A Sacramento County Sheriff’s Office helicopter made an emergency landing Sunday afternoon in Rancho Cordova but the two people onboard walked away uninjured.

The five-seat helicopter landed at 2:17 p.m. near the intersection of Grant Line and Douglas roads, the Sacramento Metropolitan Fire Department confirmed. It had been circling a property just south of there for several minutes prior and had flown 28 miles total Sunday.

No one was hurt, according to the Sheriff’s Office.

“Everyone is safe,” said Sgt. Amar Gandhi, a sheriff’s spokesman.

He said neither the pilot nor the tactical flight officer suffered any injuries. They did not require any medical attention or a trip to a hospital.

“I’ll be honest with you,” Gandhi told reporters in an early-evening news conference, “the fact they both walked away is a win in all of our books.”

There were only two deputies onboard the helicopter while on routine patrol in the area Sunday. The aircraft was forced to make an emergency landing in a field on the east side of Grant Line Road, about a mile southeast of Douglas Road.

One of the deputies has worked for the Sheriff’s Office for 25 years and been assigned to Air Operations for 10. The other has been with the agency for 19 years and assigned to Air Ops for five. Their names were not released Sunday.

The helicopter landed upright on its skids, which sustained some minor damage. Authorities were working to figure how to get the helicopter out of the field, which had muddy areas that made access difficult.

The Sheriff’s Office informed the National Transportation Safety Board and Federal Aviation Administration. The federal agencies will conduct concurrent investigations of the incident, along with the Sheriff’s Office. The sheriff’s spokesman said it could be weeks before authorities conclude the cause of the forced landing.

“As of right now, the cause of the crash is still under investigation,” Gandhi said Sunday evening. “Could be mechanical; could be weather-related. Weather was starting to turn at the time. Obviously, it could be a combination of both.”

Airbus EuroCopter made ‘hard landing’

The helicopter had some type of malfunction and made a “hard landing,” said Sheriff Jim Cooper, who went to the crash site to make sure both deputies were all right.

Manufactured in 2000, the helicopter was an Airbus EuroCopter EC120B Colibri with tail number N255SD, according to flight tracking website FlightAware. It last received an FAA Airworthiness Certification in 2013, which expires in August 2025, and was informally known as STAR (Sheriff Tactical Air Response) V or STAR 5.

Deadly 2005 crash recalled

In 2005, a Sheriff’s Office helicopter known as STAR VI crashed on the north side of Lake Natoma near Hazel Avenue Bridge. Pilot Joe Kievernagel and tactical flight officer Kevin Blount were killed, and passenger Eric Henrikson was severely injured.

Former Sheriff Scott Jones, who left office Friday to make way for incoming Sheriff Cooper, confirmed Sunday afternoon that no one was hurt in the incident.

“I was advised that STAR had to make an emergency landing, but that everyone was OK,” Jones wrote in a text message to The Bee. “I was on the scene for the STAR 6 crash, so it’s always nerve-wracking to hear an emergency with STAR, but thankfully everyone walked away from this one unhurt.

“We have outstanding pilots that train for this, but just another reminder how dangerous police work can be, for many reasons.”

The 2005 crash spawned lawsuits, including a 71-page federal lawsuit against Tubromeca, the French company that made the helicopter engine, that alleged the company had installed an engine part inside out.

That case was settled for an undisclosed amount, and another suit later resulted in the company paying Sacramento County $1.5 million.

The sheriff’s spokesman said Sunday’s emergency landing does bring back “bad memories” of the 2005 helicopter crash that took the lives of the two deputies and injured the third person onboard. Gandhi said the Sheriff’s Office is relieved Sunday’s incident was nowhere near as serious.

“It’s a huge sigh of relief from top to bottom,” Gandhi told reporters. “We’re just happy that the two pilots are safe.”

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