A Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department rescue helicopter crashed Saturday afternoon in the San Gabriel Mountains while on its way to the scene of a vehicle collision, leaving five deputies and a civilian with injuries that were not life-threatening, officials said.
The Air Rescue 5 helicopter crashed around 4:30 p.m. near Highway 39 (San Gabriel Canyon Road) and East Fork Road, said Los Angeles County Fire Department dispatch supervisor Miguel Ornelas . Highway 39, including in the Angeles National Forest, was closed to vehicular traffic after the crash.
The Ministry would like to thank our community for the outpouring of support provided to our assistants during this unfortunate incident. We appreciate your thoughts and prayers.#LASD #AIR5 #RESCUEHELICOPTERE @seblasd
— LA County Sheriffs (@LASDHQ) March 20, 2022
Azusa police are blocking access to Highway 39, south of where a sheriff’s helicopter crashed in the Angeles National Forest. Only emergency vehicles are allowed to pass. @SGVTribune pic.twitter.com/hsSlOcLleb
— Eric Anthony Licas (@EricLicas) March 20, 2022
There were six occupants in the helicopter who were transported to a hospital or hospitals. One patient was initially listed in critical condition, the others had injuries described as moderate or minor.
Sheriff Alex Villanueva at a news conference at Pomona Valley Hospital on Saturday night said of the injuries, “Thankfully nothing life threatening at this time.”
Five of those on board were deputies who were on their way to a duty call, Sgt. Gabriela Herrera from the LASD Information Office. The assistants were the pilot, the co-pilot, the team leader and two paramedics. Villanueva said the sixth person on board was a UCLA doctor taking a ride.
“All patients are currently in stable condition,” Dr. James Kim of Pomona Hospital said at the press conference.
The crash site is near the San Gabriel Dam and Reservoir in the San Gabriel Mountains above San Dimas, Glendora and Azusa. The plane experienced some sort of malfunction before suffering a “hard landing and rollover” into a small switch a few feet from a 200-foot drop into the tank, Villanueva said.
Villanueva said it was a miracle the fuel spilled in the crash didn’t ignite and the plane didn’t go over the cliff.
The cause of the Super Puma helicopter crash was not immediately known. Visibility was good in the area Saturday afternoon, with gusty winds and dry conditions.
Aerial footage of the scene showed the helicopter cabin appeared to be mostly intact but on its side, almost upside down.
The helicopter was responding to a car crash on Old San Gabriel Canyon Road and Highway 39 that blocked lanes and occurred at 4:25 p.m., a California Highway Patrol Traffic Management Center dispatcher said. The CHP incident log indicated that another rescue helicopter had landed to transport a lightly injured party.
The team of three LASD Air Rescue 5 helicopters make hundreds of flights a year over some of the toughest terrain, often flying through tight canyons and facing challenging topography. Of the two remaining helicopters, Villanueva said, “Until we know exactly what happened, we’re going to be on standby with those two. We obviously lack personnel and crews.
“It’s going to make rescues a bit more difficult,” he said.
The Federal Aviation Administration and National Transportation Board will investigate Saturday’s crash.
It was the second law enforcement helicopter crash in a month in Southern California. An officer was killed and another injured Feb. 19 when a Huntington Beach Police Department helicopter crashed into Newport Harbor.
Writer Eric Licas and The Associated Press contributed to this story.