One of the San Antonio Police Department’s four helicopters was flying at 1,000 feet on the evening of June 4 when two alarms sounded simultaneously, according to Sgt. Patrick McNamara with the department’s helicopter detail.
He said the alarms and the red warning light told the two-person crew the engine was out and so was the rotor, forcing them to land on the I-10 access road near Fresno.
The on-board video of the landing shows them flying over nearby homes and businesses, until the blaring alarms filled the cockpit and the pilot began landing the helicopter.
Now flying for KSAT 12, Capt. Danny Thompson said he knows what that’s like.
Thompson said he made four emergency landings during his 13 years with SAPD.
“During this descent, he determined that the engine appeared to be running,” Thompson said. “But the pilot cannot second guess the warning because it could quit at any time.”
McNamara said, “You have two seconds to decide what you’re going to do.”
In that brief time, McNamara said the crew made the right choice to make a precautionary landing.
Even then, he said the pilot avoided obstacles along the highway, traffic and neighboring homes and businesses.
McNamara said their training teaches pilots to always is look for for a place to set down in an emergency, like that night.
Thompson said he was later told the problem had been the alarm, “not an alarm to ignore.”
McNamara said it was learned a component went out “that runs the instrument that tells the officer the engine is running.”
He said it was the first time that particular helicopter in the fleet since 2000 was forced to land.
In 2003, Eagle had to touch down outside the Alamodome, followed by a hard landing in 2004 at an HEB parking lot, and in 2010, in the middle of Highway 281.
“We’ve had other incidents and each one of them, good Lord willing, have turned out to be OK,” said McNamara.