Helicopter, Small Plane Collide At Opa-Locka Airport
OPA-LOCKA, Fla. (AP) _ A helicopter and small airplane collided Monday near a regional airport northwest of Miami, killing the helicopter’s pilot and showering debris over morning rush-hour traffic.
The two-seat Cessna 152 lost its propeller and front wheel in the collision, but its flight-instructor pilot managed to coast to a crash landing at the busy Opa-locka Airport. He and his sole passenger, a student, walked away with only slight injuries, authorities said.
The helicopter pilot, identified as student pilot Keiki Nakajima, 27, died at the scene after his craft went into a spin and smashed into a vacant field, police said. He was flying solo.
One of the helicopter pilot’s hands was severed and landed on Red Road, Hialeah Police Lt. Lowell Coffin said. He may have been thrown through the shattered windshield of the Bell 47G when it crashed, witnesses said.
Both pilots were apparently practicing touch-and-go landings, airport authorities said.
″It was ugly. It was terrible, just like something in the movies,″ said Roberto Munne, who witnessed his crash from a car.
There were no reported injuries among motorists, despite broken glass scattered down a half-mile stretch of Red Road.
The airport, which also serves as an air base for the U.S. Coast Guard’s 7th District, is one of the busiest general-aviation airports in the nation.
Federal Aviation Administration and National Transportation Safety Board investigators said they couldn’t immediately speculate on the accident’s cause.
The Cessna instructor, 28-year-old Julio Cesar Bedoya, said the Opa-locka tower had given him and his student, Hernando Lozado, 33, permission to land.
″We were about 800 feet up, had been cleared to land and were making normal procedures to do that,″ Bedoya told The Miami News. ″The student was handling the controls and then there was a thump. I saw the tail of the helicopter ... off to the right of the plane. I immediately took the controls and we coasted in.″
Said Bedoya: ″The tower did not tell me about any helicopters.″
NTSB investigator Jeff Kennedy said an air-traffic control specialist from the federal agency’s Washington headquarters would interview the control tower personnel about the collision.
Roger Myers of the FAA regional office in Atlanta said both pilots were talking to the control tower when they collided. Both were coming in for landings; the plane at a runway and the helicopter at an adjacent grassy field.
Granger Summerset, who had stopped at a red light and on his way to work, said he feared the plane was going to crash into the road, so he jumped out of his car and ran.
″He was coming in low,″ said Summerset, 26. ″He was coming right over traffic. I said: ‘Oh, God.’ ″
The helicopter crashed next to the Opa-locka Community Correctional Center, a minimum-security state prison.
″I was cutting the grass and I looked up and saw the helicopter and plane. I’m saying to myself: ‘That’s too close,’ ″ said inmate James Roberts, 40, serving time as a habitual offender.
Acting Airport Manager Willett M. Stubbs said it was the first fatal crash at the airport since two helicopters, one a Coast Guard craft, crashed there in 1982.