Helicopter crashes onto busy Central California highway; pilot walks out of wreck

Friday, September 3, 2010

Pilot injured in chopper crash on Calif. highway

SALINAS, Calif. — A helicopter landed upside-down on a California highway in Salinas Friday, slowing Labor Day weekend traffic for part of the morning but causing only minor injuries to the pilot.

The Bell 47 helicopter, owned by Gomes Farm Air Service, Inc. and used to spray crops, crashed onto Highway 101 shortly after 6 a.m., the California Highway Patrol said.

It was removed from the road and placed on a flatbed truck at 9:30 a.m., clearing all lanes.

The crash happened near Salinas Municipal Airport, and no other vehicles were involved.

CHP Officer Robert Lehman said the pilot, Frank Gomes, Jr., was the only one aboard and complained of suffering vertigo just before the crash.

Gomes walked away from the wreck but was taken to the hospital for evaluation of pain.

His sister, Christine Gomes, whom he operates the business with, told the San Francisco Chronicle that her brother was able to get out of the helicopter by himself after the crash.

“Those helicopters are rather easy to get out of, a plastic bubble,” she said. “They’re not as cumbersome as an all-metal helicopter.”

The helicopter was carrying a non-hazardous liquid fertilizer, Lehman said, which spilled onto the road and had been washed away.

Lehman said the National Transportation Safety Board would investigate the cause of the crash.

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