A 41-year-old helicopter pilot remained in critical condition late Friday at a regional hospital after the helicopter he was flying crashed into a watermelon field near the Merced Regional Airport.
The pilot, whose name was not released, was spraying chemicals over a cornfield about 7:30 a.m. when he lost control of the helicopter, according to Kathleen Hennessy, spokeswoman for the state Division of Occupational Safety and Health.
The Bell 47-G2A helicopter clipped a set of utility guy wires before it crashed and burst into flames, the Merced County Sheriff’s Department said.
Two witnesses, whose identities could not be confirmed, pulled the man from the fiery crash, Capt. B.J. Jones said.
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“One man was apparently walking his dog and the other was in a house nearby and heard the helicopter blades hit the ground,” Jones said.
Roberto Onofre witnessed the crash while working in a field nearby. Speaking through an interpreter, Onofre said he saw the aircraft tangled in the overhead wires and go down in the field. He said the helicopter appeared to roll when it hit the ground. No one else was involved in the crash.
The Sheriff’s Department turned over the investigation over to Cal-OSHA and the Federal Aviation Administration.
The helicopter pilot is employed by Bettencourt Flying Service of Atwater, authorities reported.
Hennessy said it was too early to comment on what may have caused the crash.
Typically, she said, OSHA investigators examine an employers’ illness and injury prevention plan to make sure it adequately addressed maintenance and equipment operation for this type of use.
“That’s generally the procedure whenever there’s an industrial accident investigation,” Hennessy explained.