A Stanislaus County sheriff’s helicopter that was disabled by a hard landing in July could receive $876,000 in repairs and improvements before it’s returned to service.
The rough landing at Modesto Airport occurred July 30 when the Bell Long Ranger helicopter ran out of fuel, according to a National Transportation Safety Board investigation.
The tail boom, skids, main rotor and tail rotor system were damaged. Repairs to the helicopter are estimated at $290,620, and an additional $585,367 could be spent on maintenance and improvements to replace the avionics and communications systems.
County supervisors could approve Sheriff Adam Christianson’s spending request Tuesday. An insurance company has agreed to cover about $257,000 in repairs to the helicopter. An $8,530 deductible and $25,200 in repairs not covered by insurance will be the county’s responsibility.
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To cover those costs and the proposed upgrades, the sheriff proposes to use almost $620,000 in grant funds to the department for the regional effort combating the methamphetamine trade, a report says.
The hard landing occurred as the aircraft and crew returned from the second of two search-and-rescue missions. The pilot, Sgt. Robert Latapie, and a tactical flight officer were not injured.
Latapie, 48, retired three months after the accident.
In a report for Tuesday’s meeting, Christianson said the 1979 Bell aircraft is used to support patrol deputies and other police agencies in Stanislaus County, along with conducting aerial surveillance for drug enforcement operations. Its role in drug trafficking investigations should justify the use of the funds, his report suggests.
The copter has outdated avionics and communications equipment, according to the report. The sheriff proposes upgrades to the glass and night-vision-certified cockpit, radio equipment, MX-10 camera nosemount, searchlight and other components.
“These improvements will increase the helicopter’s overall value, flight mission capabilities, and the overall safety of the air support program,” Christianson wrote.
Rotorcraft Support Inc. of Southern California inspected the damaged aircraft and recommended it was time to replace additional items. The need for those maintenance items is not related to the accident.
Another proposed purchase is $30,000 for a heliwagon, or landing pad on wheels. A pilot will be able to land the Bell helicopter on the heliwagon and then the flight crew can move the copter into the hangar by remote control.
That purchase would give the sheriff’s air support unit two heliwagons, one for each for its helicopters.
Supervisor Jim DeMartini said he asked the sheriff and county chief executive’s office to explain the use of drug enforcement funds for the county’s share of repairs and the upgrades. “I just wanted to make sure it’s appropriate and someone won’t ask us to give it back,” DeMartini said. “It’s a lot of money.”
The sheriff’s helicopter and crew assisted with a July 29 search for a 71-year-old woman in Alpine County and then returned to Modesto Airport, where it refueled. The copter left the airport at 2:15 a.m. July 30 to help Tuolumne County searchers find a lost hiker in Red Hills Recreation Area.
According to the NTSB report, Latapie departed on the second mission with 74 gallons of fuel and was returning from Tuolumne County when the “low fuel” light came on in the cockpit.
About 4:40 a.m., the copter was over the Modesto Airport hangars and banked right to begin landing, most likely starving the jet engine of what was left in the fuel tank.
Latapie performed an emergency maneuver, causing the aircraft with a stalled engine to land hard on the ground, the NTSB said. Running out of fuel in flight is considered pilot error.
Christianson’s report does not estimate the time for repairs or when the helicopter will return to operation. The sheriff did not return messages Friday.
The Stanislaus County Board of Supervisors will meet at 9 a.m. Tuesday in the basement chamber of Tenth Street Place, at 1010 10th St., Modesto.
Ken Carlson: 209-578-2321