WEST BROWARD (CBSMiami.com) – A helicopter pilot headed to West Miami-Dade County from Orlando crashed in the Everglades miles west of US 27 Saturday morning, but was rescued after an intensive search by Broward, Palm Beach, and Miami-Dade helicopter units.
The 51-year-old pilot, whose name has yet to be released, was hoisted from the wreckage of his Robinson R-44 helicopter at about 11 a.m. Saturday by a Miami-Dade Fire-Rescue helicopter and flown to Broward General Medical Center in critical condition.
He was revived by a flight medic from Broward Sheriff’s Office Fire-Rescue who was dropped onto the crash site from a BSO Fire-Rescue helicopter hovering overhead.
The rescue capped an hours-long search of the Everglades by the three rescue agencies, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and volunteers following a vague early-morning report of an aircraft down.
BSO Fire-Rescue spokesman Mike Jachles said BSO was notified of the crash in a round-about way.
“The pilot called someone else, possibly a friend, and told him he had crashed and thought it was somewhere in the Everglades,” Jachles told CBSMiami.com. “That person called someone else, possibly 911 wherever he was. Our initial call came from the tower.”
Jachles said the FAA tower couldn’t provide any better location than “the Everglades”, a huge search area.
To help increase their odds of finding the downed pilot, BSO Fire rescue called in units from Palm Beach Sheriff’s Office and Miami-Dade Fire-Rescue to help divide the search area.
An airboat unit from FWC and Broward County also was called in to help with the ground search.
“This was truly like searching for a needle in a haystack,” Jachles said, “with very, very, gray information.”
The initial report came in about 7:20 Saturday morning. By 10:30, the PBSO helicopter spotted what appeared to be wreckage in the grass, and a man lying motionless beside it.
“He was outside of the aircraft,” Jachles said. “We don’t know if he was thrown from it or he self-extricated.”
The FWC airboat was the first to reach the chopper, which was overturned and broken up. Jachles said the pilot was seriously injured and unresponsive. That’s when BSO Fire Rescue stepped in, dropping the medic from their helicopter as it hovered overhead.
“He was able to revive the man,” Jachles said.
There are no roads into the area, which is 4 miles west of US 27 and 9 miles north of I-75 in far western Broward County. A trip by airboat would have been slow, so Miami-Dade Fire Rescue used the hoist on their helicopter to lift the pilot from the crash site. MDFR took the man to Broward General Medical Center for treatment.
“He’ll probably survive,” Jachles said, crediting the quick recovery in tough conditions to the training exercises South Florida agencies do together for rescues like this.
The FAA and the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) have been notified of the crash and will conduct their own investigation. The wrecked helicopter remains partially submerged in the Everglades.
The helicopter, a small gasoline powered Robinson R-44. is registered to Bravo Helicopters at Tamiami Airport in Southwest Miami-Dade. The FAA said it was on a trip from Orlando to Tamiami and made a stop in Pahokee. Speculation is that the pilot may have re-fueled there, but that has not been confirmed.
The cause of the crash is not yet known. There are no reports of a distress call made by the pilot before the crash. FAA records show the helicopter is relatively new, manufactured in 2008.