Police Helicopter Pilot

Helicopter Aviation & Beyond:

We take you inside the cockpit of law enforcement helicopters around the world while sharing knowledge and insight on how to become a police or sheriff helicopter pilot.

Filtering by Tag: San Diego

Two San Diego Sheriff Air Crew Members Receive Governor's Medal Of Valor Award

Deputies Scott Bligh and Gary Kneeshaw were among 13 California Public Safety Members to be awarded the Governor's Public Safety Medal of Valor on Wednesday September 14th, 2011.  Bligh and Kneeshaw earned the recognition from Governor Brown for one of the most daring law enforcement helicopter rescues in recent memory.  On August 21st, 2010 battled heavy smoke, flames, and embers blowing into the cockpit to rescue two trapped mountain climbers off the side of El Cajon Mountain near El Capitan Reservoir in San Diego County. 

The female climber was picked off the side of the mountain first in a "Toe In" maneuver after Deputy Kneeshaw climbed out of the helicopter and placed her in his seat.  Kneeshaw stayed behind with the male climber waiting for his partner and helicopter to return.  During the wait Kneeshaw and the male climber were almost overrun by fire and had to run across the face of the mountain to evade the flames.

Deputy Bligh fought through reduced visibility, smoke, and burning embers to fly back in and locate Kneeshaw and the male climber in their new location on the mountain.  At one point during the pick up Bligh received a low rotor rpm warning in the cockpit, indicating that the engine could be losing power. Bligh quickly recognized that the engine was still creating power and the momentary low rotor rpm was a result of the extreme flight conditions and demands on the helicopter.

After outrunning flames once, Deputy Kneeshaw made a quick decision to ride the skid of the helicopter out of the hot zone, a technique he had never practiced and had never trained for.  After loading the male climber into the front seat Kneeshaw stepped onto the skid and shouted at Bligh to take off.  With flames once again threatening the tail of the helicopter Bligh and Kneeshaw flew the remaining climber off the mountain and to safety.  You can read a more complete article on the rescue here.  

Man Who Shot At Escondido Police Officers and ASTREA Helicopter Sentenced To 34 Years

A man driving a stolen car, and in possession of stolen guns, who shot at Escondido Ca. Police Officers and the San Diego Sheriff's ASTREA Helicopter was recently sentenced to 34 years in State Prison.  While no officers or deputies were injured in the pursuit and shooting, Escondido Police Officer Ryan Banks uniform was grazed by a bullet, just missing his neck.  The pursuit began when an officer responded to a simple "suspicious person" call, of a subject who had been sitting in a vehicle in a neighborhood for several hours.  That man was Eric Anthony Pomatto 27.

Pomatto was in a stolen car and was in possession of two weapons he found in the car when he stole from a Starbucks in Chula Vista earlier that day.  Pomatto was essentially lying in wait for the father of his ex-girlfriend, whom he planned to kill.  During the pursuit Pomatto fired numerous rounds from both a shotgun and 9 MM pistol.  Some of those rounds were fired at the San Diego Sheriff's helicopter with Deputy-Pilots Gene Palos and Darren Dollard on board.  

You can read more on this story here.

Robber Convicted In 2009 Jewelry Store Heist: Sheriff's Helicopter Assisted On Call

I remember this call well.  I was the TFO on board the helicopter but I can't seem to remember who was flying on this day, perhaps Scott Sterner.  It was a sunny October morning in 2009 when we were called to assist Carlsbad Police Department with a jewelry store robbery.  

Carlsbad is a coastal city that enjoys a pretty low crime rate anyway.  As we arrived I was directed to the jewelry store by officers on the ground.  The store was the end unit of a rather long but quaint commercial building in the downtown area of Carlsbad known as the village.  

The primary Carlsbad PD officer requested that we check the roof since the robber seemed to emerge from the lady's restroom to commit his crimes, and then disappeared back into the lady's restroom after robbing the two employees who had just opened up shop.  Sure enough, peering through my stabilized binoculars I observed a definite hole in the roof of the business, not far from the back door.

The robber had been wearing a full mask and gloves, so there was very little description for law enforcement to go on at the time.  We did however conduct some PA announcements in the area in an attempt to find potential witnesses, who may have seen anything or anyone suspicious prior to the robbery.   

A short time later officers confirmed that there was a hole in the ceiling of the women's restroom.  A few minutes after that they announced that a mask, an airsoft gun, a bag and jewelry were found in the crawl space between the ceiling and the roof.  We stayed on scene for some time while officers cleared the crawl space, and surrounding businesses.  I could see why the robber might think it was smart to leave his gun and mask behind, but why would he leave some of the jewels behind?  Had officers arrived on scene while the suspect was still in the roof, causing him to abandon his loot?  Ultimately it would be DNA from the mask that would convict him.

Eventually it was determined that the suspect was most likely out of the area.  With nothing else for us to do, we went back into service and flew away thinking we had probably heard the last about the case. 

Imagine my surprise this morning when I ran across this article published just today in the San Diego Reader.  It seems our robber friend had a long history of similar criminal conduct.  So much so that the judge found it acceptable to sentence him to 50 years to life in prison for this robbery.  It's a great read!

Massive Midnight Power Outage Proves Eerie Experience For Sheriff's Helicopter Crew.

Night flying whether in a civilian or law enforcement aircraft is often very enjoyable.  The air is smooth, there is generally less air traffic, many control towers are closed, and the city lights can almost appear as diamonds spilled onto a carpet of black velvet for the eyes to behold. 

For low level night pilots these lights make up distinct patterns that the brain becomes dependant upon for instantly calculating your altitude, location, and direction of travel, along with the helicopter's instruments of course.  Neighborhoods, mountains, malls, streets, freeways, buildings and towers are illuminated or outlined by lights providing constant feedback to the senses.  All of these lighting cues are then greatly enhanced by donning a pair of night vision goggles.  I have often thought how much more difficult night time navigation would be if there was a total and complete blackout in the area you are flying over. 

Well shortly after midnight last night my partner and I experienced just that when a massive power outage began spreading across San Diego County.  According to SDGE the California Independent System Operator asked them to curtail 310 mega watts of power due to an emergency in the power grid.  The exact emergency was not identified at the time. 

We were working a missing person call over Casa De Oro when I glanced west toward Lemon Grove.  Instead of seeing the familiar lights of Lemon Grove however I saw what my brain told me was New York's Central Park at night time.  A large swath of darkness bordered by lights on all sides.  It takes a couple of seconds to figure out why the view out of the cockpit doesn't look like it is supposed to, or like it did on the last orbit.  We watched as the blackout spread to large parts of Spring Valley, Imperial Beach, Mount Helix, portions of El Cajon, all of downtown Lakeside and parts of La Mesa.  At least those were the communities that we could see were effected, from our vantage point in the helicopter.

While I never lost situational awareness, and there was never a total and complete blackout, the loss of large swaths of ground lights without question demanded slightly greater focus.  A quick check of the altimeter revealed that the helicopter had surreptitiously entered auto climb and I was now flying 300' higher than I was a few minutes ago.  One of the little tricks your brain pulls on you when you start denying it the visual cues it is used to receiving.  It was not all bad as the near full moon and the NVG's revealed plenty of the darkened terrain and city below, just in a different format. 

My TFO partner announced what was without question about to occurr.  The onslaught of commercial burglary alarms that were going to flood into the communications center and out to the field units due to power interruption.  Sure enough, we only had to wait a few minutes for the first bank vault alarm to come in. 

After about 30-40 minutes of monitoring the dark areas and assisting on alarm calls, we watched as the lights came back on one neighborhood at a time.  It was quite a unique show and with the possible exception of the SDPD ABLE helicopter crew, we had the best seat in the house.