Helicopter crashes in Vineyard Sound
A helicopter piloted by a seasonal Edgartown resident, with three passengers and two dogs on board, crashed in Vineyard Sound Saturday afternoon about 2 pm. Everyone aboard the copter, including the dogs, survived. The helicopter went down on a bright, calm day approximately 1,000 yards off the entrance to Lake Tashmoo, in an area popular with recreational boaters and fishermen.
At about 2:10 pm, Coast Guard Sector Southeastern New England received nearly 15 calls from 911 reporting that a helicopter had crashed and providing a location.
The Coast Guard immediately issued a marine radio broadcast to alert mariners of the crash and to ask them to assist if possible. When 25-foot and 41-foot boat crews from Coast Guard Station Woods Hole arrived at the scene of the crash, a boat operator cruising nearby had already pulled all of the passengers and animals from the water.
The pilot, Thomas O'Connell, 68, of Quincy, the co-pilot, William O'Connell, also of Quincy, and two passengers, Michelle Mussaw and Melanie Smith, both of Nashua, N.H., were taken to Martha's Vineyard Hospital and released, state police said.
The engine of the 1975 Bell 206 Jet Ranger helicopter, owned by Seaport Aviation, failed at an altitude of about 1,000 feet, police said.
Cameron McCloud of California was in his kayak and witnessed the crash. He said he could not believe what he saw.
"I was in my kayak fishing, about a hundred yards off shore, when I heard an engine," Mr. McCloud told a Times reporter. "Then a loud vroom as it went right over my head. I saw this helicopter coming down in a nosedive. It splashed down with the blades going around in the water. I sat there for a minute, not quite sure if it really happened."
Mr. McCloud said that at least 10 boats arrived to assist the pilot and passengers.
"The helicopter started sinking over to one side right after the boats showed up. It keeled over and turned upside down in the water," he said.
O'Callaghan, towed the overturned helicopter close to shore on the west side of the entrance to Lake Tashmoo. The helicopter was later removed from the water.
Photo courtesy of US Coast Guard.
Suzanne Gilbar of Warwick, Rhode Island said she witnessed the crash from a boat. She was traveling from Rhode Island to Vineyard Haven.
"First I thought it was very cool," said Ms. Gilbar. "I thought it was landing. I thought it was a pretty good touch down. It didn't look like it was in distress." She said the 28-foot boat she was aboard was the second on the scene. "We didn't see anybody. It wasn't until we circled around again that we saw them all. Two small boats came in and lifted the people off. Everyone was relatively organized and calm."
Also on the boat was Sid Gilman of Barrington, Rhode Island. "Some lucky people on board," said Mr. Gilman. "He didn't come straight down, he came down coming across the water. It was coming down perfectly upright. When it came down, the legs hit the water, and the rotor was still spinning. It went right over to the right. The minute the rotor hit the water, it just pulled the helicopter right over."
David Lumpkin of Michigan was sitting on the porch of his house, overlooking the water. "I saw the helicopter flying in low," Mr. Lumpkin said. "At first, I thought it was doing a trick, but then it nosed down really sharply and hit the water. It was in the water for a couple of seconds, with two people in it and it seemed like they were shutting down the engines."
When Tisbury harbormaster Jay Wilbur arrived, the helicopter was still floating well away from the shore. He said there was no indication of any fuel or other pollution spill. Concerned that the aircraft would sink, he attached a line and towed it to a shallow cove west of the Tashmoo inlet. The helicopter was later removed from the water and transferred to a barge. The aircraft was later trucked to the Martha's Vineyard Airport, where F.A.A. investigators will examine it.
"The good Samaritan played a key role to ensure the safety of all the passengers of the helicopter," said Ensign Colin McKee, a search-and-rescue controller at Sector Southeastern New England "The Coast Guard is always grateful whenever a good Samaritan can help with search and rescue efforts."
This is not the first time a helicopter has landed Mr. O'Connell in trouble. In July 2007, he clear-cut a portion of a one-acre lot he owns on Sandy Road to make a helicopter landing area adjacent to the one-acre lot on which he owns a house.
At the time, Mr. O'Connell was part of a group of 10 plaintiffs who had filed a lawsuit in September 2005 to block the construction of three houses on three affordable one-acre house lots on Sandy Road. Along with the issue of density, the plaintiffs had argued that the proposed residential construction would have a negative impact on protected or endangered species, including certain varieties of moths.
The Edgartown zoning officer told the Quincy-based developer he could not legally use his property as a landing site.
In July 2002, Mr. O'Connell was involved in a fatal boating accident in Edgartown Harbor. Quincy realtor William Sanderson, 62, suffered fatal abdominal injuries after being lacerated by the propellers of his friend Mr. O'Connell's 47-foot cigarette boat, called Thunder Enlightening.