MIDDLE TOWNSHIP — A helicopter that crashed on the edge of a soccer field in Cape May Court House Monday morning was having mechanical programs and the pilot was trying to steer it away from residential areas, officials said.
“The preliminary reports are that it was mechanical failure,” said Cape May County Freeholder Director Jerry Thornton.
The Cape May County Department of Mosquito Control helicopter sheared off tree limbs before crashing shortly after 10:30 a.m. The pilot was not injured but a passenger suffered injuries that authorities said were not life-threatening. Their names have not been released.
Thornton said they were on a routine inspection flight over the marshes when the pilot heard “cracking sounds” and knew he was in trouble.
“He made every effort to get away from housing areas and to the field, which, thank God, he did,” said Thornton.
Middle Township Administrator Connie Mahon saw the helicopter’s final seconds in the air before it disappeared under buildings and trees. She said it was nose down and flying in a circle.
“You knew it wasn’t landing. They were trying to get to the field,” Mahon said.
The Boyd Street Field, which includes baseball and soccer fields, is often is full of children, but on this morning there was nobody on it. The tail section of the helicopter landed in a South Boyd Street resident’s garden, and debris was found in the neighborhood, but nobody on the ground was hurt.
“The angels were on our side,” said Thornton.
Officials with the National Transportation Safety Board are on their way from Baltimore to investigate, and the Federal Aviation Administration is also involved. The FAA released a statement saying the pilot of the Hiller UH12 helicopter had to make a “forced landing.”
Police Chief Chris Leusner said the department received a flood of 911 calls beginning at 10:42 a.m. The field is surrounded by houses and businesses. Numerous people witnessed the crash.
“I actually saw it go down,” said State Farm Insurance agent Bob Noel, who was in his office on Hand Avenue.
“It was real loud. I turned and looked out the window and this thing comes flying through the air. I could see part of the blade flying through the air. If that tree wasn’t there I think it would have hit this building,” said Noel.
The helicopter hit an oak tree and turned on its side before making landfall with the front on the Boyd Street Field, owned by the local school system, and the tail section in the garden of South Boyd Street residents Don and Rose Hamer.
Don Hamer, 80, the retired director of the USDA’s Plant Materials Center in the Swainton section, may have been the first at the scene but he couldn’t scale a 7-foot fence to help out.
“I was sitting in the house and I heard this noise. I knew it was a helicopter. It kept getting louder and louder. Then it sounded like a brush cutter. That was the rotor hitting the trees,” said Hamer.
“I thought it hit the house it was so loud,” said Rose Hamer.
Hamer saw Bob Noel and another man at the scene. Noel said it was one of his customers, Vince Somma of Lower Township.
Noel said the field often has children on it with morning practices but on this day it was empty.
“Thank God there were no children there,” Noel said.
Leusner, who on Monday afternoon was waiting for NTSB and FAA officials to arrive, said debris was found on several nearby side streets.
Thornton said the pilot, who was taken to the hospital for precautionary reasons, got out on his own and got the passenger out, who suffered head injuries and was unconscious for a time. The passenger was also taken to the Cape Regional Medical Center in Cape May Court House.
“The last report he seemed to be OK,” said Thornton.
Both men are mosquito department employees but officials did not want to release their names until their families are notified.
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