By Alex DeMetrick

COLUMBIA, Md.  (WJZ) — Federal investigators are at a Howard County high school, investigating the emergency landing of a police helicopter. It happened late Thursday night at Wild Lake High School in Columbia.

Alex DeMetrick reports it was a hard landing.

That helicopter has been removed from the school’s football field, following a preliminary investigation by the FAA.

It was a close call, pulled off thanks to the skill of the pilot, Cpl. Perry Thorsvik.

He and three others, Cpl. Robert Townsend, Officer Jacob Bell and Officer Craig Hoover, were on board Howard County’s police helicopter when it made an emergency landing on the football field of Wild Lake High School.

A mechanical failure about 11 p.m. Thursday night apparently caused the chopper to lose power.

“The pilot, who is very experienced and is a certified flight instructor, was able to use night vision goggles to locate the field at the high school,” said Sherry Llewellyn, Howard County Police.

Avoiding nearby houses:

“It’s not like I heard it sputtering or anything. I just heard it coming around, circling,” said Sonia Jemenez, neighbor.

An inspector from the Federal Aviation Administration examined the aircraft. Coming down hard, it splayed out the landing skids, and lost its tail rotor. Indications the pilot was auto-rotating.

“An auto-rotation is the maneuver that’s going to get you safely on the ground when your engine is not providing power to the rotor blades,” said Captain Jeff Long.

In normal flight, those spinning blades provide lift. If the helicopter is high enough when power is lost, the blades can still spin.

WJZ pilot Jeff Long says auto rotation is something helicopter pilots practice.

“The air flowing up through the rotor system keeps it spinning. We glide on that,” he said.

“This really was a situation where our pilot is to be credited for doing what was necessary to ensure not just the safety of himself, but the entire crew. And we’re all relieved to know they walked away without injury,” Llewellyn said.

The aircraft has been secured in a hanger for further investigation next week.

It’s not clear what exactly the mechanical failure was. Federal inspectors from the FAA will make that determination.

According to Howard County Police, the helicopter was responding to a call when it developed mechanical problems.


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