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6 injured after Calif. sheriff helicopter crash in national forest

Five of the passengers on the Air Rescue 5 helicopter were deputies with the Sheriff’s Department


By Richard Winton and Melody Guiterrez
Los Angeles Times

LOS ANGELES — A Los Angeles County rescue helicopter with six people onboard crashed near Azusa and Glendora Saturday afternoon while responding to a call, but despite their injuries everyone is expected to survive, Sheriff Alex Villanueva said.

The National Transportation Safety Board has initiated an investigation into the crash, which occurred at 4:52 pm. on a remote stretch of San Gabriel Canyon Road.

Five of the passengers on the Air Rescue 5 helicopter were deputies with the Sheriff’s Department, and the sixth was a doctor from the University of California, Los Angeles. All of them were taken to Pomona Valley Medical Center for treatment.

The passengers suffered a variety of injuries, including fractures and broken ribs.

“They are in stable condition, some more banged up than others, but thankful to be alive,” Villanueva said.

The damaged aircraft, a Super Puma helicopter, was lying on its side in Azusa Canyon Saturday afternoon. Multiple emergency vehicles were at the scene.

The helicopter was called to the scene by L.A. County Fire to transport a patient who was injured when their vehicle rolled over. It’s unclear what caused the aircraft to malfunction, but it crashed just a few feet from a 200-foot drop near Morris Dam in the Angeles National Forest.

“The fact that it did not roll over and go all the way down, or that there was no fire, is nothing short of a miracle,” Villanueva said. “So we’re very grateful for that.”

Two paramedics aboard the helicopter extracted the pilot and co-pilot after the crash. Firefighters who were already on the scene to assist the rolled-over vehicle were able to treat the injured as well, Villanueva said.

The rescue helicopter makes hundreds of flights annually into some of the toughest terrain, often flying into narrow canyons and dealing with difficult topography.

The helicopter crew has “saved thousands of lives over the years,” Villanueva said.

Air Rescue 5’s fateful flight began at Huntington Hospital in Pasadena, where it regularly deposits hikers and motorists who become injured in the San Gabriel Mountains.

Nothing appeared out of the ordinary as the chopper took off from the hospital on Saturday afternoon, though there were many low-hanging clouds around the mountain range.

In February, a Huntington Beach police helicopter crashed in Newport Harbor near the Lido Peninsula, killing passenger Nicholas Vella, a 14-year veteran of the Huntington Beach Police Department. The pilot in that crash sustained minor injuries.

(Staff writer Nathan Fenno contributed to this report.)

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