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Sheriff’s copter crew unhurt in recent Modesto Airport hard landing

A Stanislaus County Sheriff’s Department helicopter participates in a search and rescue at Modesto Reservoir on June 24, 2016.
A Stanislaus County Sheriff’s Department helicopter participates in a search and rescue at Modesto Reservoir on June 24, 2016. Modesto Bee file

A Stanislaus County Sheriff’s Department helicopter pilot was forced to make a hard landing at Modesto Airport on July 30 when the jet engine of his craft lost power upon final approach, Sheriff Adam Christianson said Monday.

The pilot, Sgt. Rob Latapie, and tactical flight officer, Deputy Manuel Garcia, were not injured, he said. A brief Federal Aviation Administration account of the incident shows those were the only two aboard the aircraft.

The Bell 206 helicopter was returning from a search-and-rescue mission in Tuolumne County after finishing another mission in Alpine County, the sheriff said. The FAA brief says its tail rotor struck the ground on landing.

The hard landing, classified as an incident rather than an accident in the FAA brief, damaged the helicopter’s tail boom and landing skids, Christianson said. “The aircraft will have to be disassembled in order to determine the extent of the damage and the cost of repair,” he wrote in an email. “We will be meeting with our insurance company before determining the disposition of the aircraft.”

The Sheriff’s Department is working with the FAA and the National Transportation Safety Board to investigate the loss of engine power, the sheriff said. FAA spokesman Ian Gregor said his administration does not comment on pending investigations. Kate Benhoff, an air safety investigator with the NTSB, also could not comment. She said she’s waiting on more information regarding the incident and should have her report done within a month. She estimated that it will be public in about two months, after being reviewed and approved by the NTSB.

Christianson said Latapie “is a well-trained, well-qualified pilot with over 6,000 hours of flight time with the Sheriff’s Office. Sgt. Latapie started his helicopter flight training with the U.S. military before joining the Sheriff's Office.

“This is the first accident in the history of the program, started by Sheriff Les Weidman when military surplus aircraft were made available to law enforcement agencies. The Sheriff’s Air Support Unit has received recognition from the Airborne Law Enforcement Association for its safety record and safety program.”

Deke Farrow: 209-578-2327

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