No one was injured this afternoon when a twin-engine helicopter made an emergency landing on a Pequot Ave. beach due to poor visibility.
Witnesses said they saw the chopper flying low over the Thames River at about 4 p.m. before it made the landing on the private beach of a residence at 391 Pequot Ave. The property is located adjacent to the Thames Yacht Club.
Capt. Steve Crowley of the said the aircraft was en route to Groton-New London Airport in Groton and became lost in the thick fog.
“He was trying to find any place to land once he got fogged in and couldn’t see,” said Crowley
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Crowley said information was not available on the identity of the pilot or his passenger. Several bystanders said the passenger was a fighter taking part in a mixed martial arts competition at the Mohegan Sun Arena, and that he left by vehicle soon after the landing. A limousine sent from the casino arrived later to find that the man had already left.
Several people at the Thames Yacht Club were preparing their boats for the season during the landing. Michael Peterson, steward of the club, estimated that the helicopter may have flown 10 or 20 feet over the building as it was heading upriver. He said the chopper then turned around and started downriver, at which point Peterson signaled to the pilot.
“I was waving at him because he was going right toward the Pfizer buildings, and they’re pretty tall,” he said.
Don Gesswin, who witnessed the landing from , said the aircraft had a close call as it was coming in. He said the chopper came close to hitting the mast of a sailboat moored in the river before landing.
“It was so close to a mast that we actually hid behind a boat, because we thought it was going to hit it,” said Gesswin.
Battalion Chief Keith Nichols of the said the department responded to after receiving a report that a helicopter in distress would be trying to land there. He said the department was the first to respond to the landing site.
“The pilot was being very evasive and refusing to answer any questions,” he said.
An official with the Federal Aviation Administration declined comment, but told members of the Thames Yacht Club that the chopper would likely have to stay on the beach until the aircraft could be examined for any possible damage. He also said it was fortunate that the pilot did not attempt a landing on the Groton side of the river since it is a more developed area.
According to the FAA records on the helicopter’s tail number, the aircraft is an Aerospatiale A-Star owned by Meridian Consulting I Corp Inc. of Kearny, N.J. It is part of the fleet of Liberty Helicopters, a New York City company offering charter flights and sightseeing tours.
According to a National Transportation Safety Board report, the helicopter was previously involved in an incident on March 22, 2008, in New York City when its tail skid contacted the slow turning rotor blades of a nearby parked Eurocopter. The pilot returned the aircraft to the helipad and shut the aircraft down with no injuries.
Crowley and Nichols said emergency landings are an unusual sight in the city.
“We’ve had them land in New London, but not an emergency when it couldn’t land anywhere else,” said Crowley.
Nichols said the last such incident he recalled was a small plane with mechanical problems landing at Ocean Beach.
Original breaking news:
A helicopter made an emergency landing on Pequot Ave. this afternoon due to poor visibility.
The chopper put down on the private beach of 391 Pequot Ave., next door to the Thames Yacht Club, at about 4 p.m. Witnesses said the aircraft flew low over the river heading north before turning back and making a safe landing. No one was injured.
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The helicopter was attempting to reach Groton-New London Airport but was unable to due to thick fog. A pilot remained on scene, while a passenger - a mixed martial arts fighter taking part in a fight tonight at Mohegan Sun - left soon after by vehicle.
An updated story will be posted this evening.