Officials credit pilot's skill in avoiding catastrophe

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photo by Christie Rotondo photo by Christie Rotondo ‘Dan saw the field to his left, and he made every attempt to get to that spot. He did a tremendous job in saving property and lives, and I’m very proud of both of them.’

— Peter Bosak, county superintendent of mosquito control

CAPE MAY COURT HOUSE – A mechanical failure is the likely cause of a helicopter crash in a field in Cape May Court House at about 10:50 a.m. Monday, Aug. 25, and local officials have credited the pilot for avoiding homes surrounding the field.

Ryan Ritchie, a passenger in the aircraft, suffered minor injuries, and the pilot, Dan Konecny, was not injured when he made what the Federal Aviation Administration has described as a “forced landing” of the Cape May County Department of Mosquito Control’s helicopter in the Boyd Street recreation field at School House Lane and Boyd Street.

“Given what we’ve been told, and the eyewitness accounts, it seems as though there was some sort of mechanical failure,” said Peter Bosak, superintendent of mosquito control. “Dan heard a loud bang, and then the helicopter began to lose altitude.”

The superintendent said it was Konecny’s skill that allowed him to put the aircraft down in the field.

“He specifically told me that he avoided houses,” Bosak said. “Pilots only have fractions of seconds to react. One thing about pilots flying over populated areas; they look for areas they can land if they have to.”

Bosak said Monday’s flight was a routine surveillance of salt marshes in the area.

“They were on the bay shore and flying in toward the home base, and that’s when they experienced some difficulty,” he said.

Bosak said Ryan suffered a “bump on the head” during the forced landing, and both men were taken to Cape Regional Medical Center.

“I saw Ryan after the accident,” Bosak said. “He came back to the office around 3 p.m. He had a couple of scratches on his lower arm, and a bruise on his forehead.”

Bosak said Konecny and Ritchie are county employees, however Konecny is Pennsylvania resident who’s employed seasonally as a pilot for mosquito control.

“Dan owns his own helicopter and he’s worked on helicopters for a number of years,” Bosak said.

The superintendent said Konecny was hired in the spring and slated to work through the mosquito season which ends with the area’s first hard frost – usually near the end of October.

“Dan was speaking with one of the FAA gentlemen yesterday, talking about getting back in the saddle,” Bosak said.

Officials with the National Transportation Safety Board said that while they will investigate the incident, the FAA will decided whether Konecny will be allowed to pilot a helicopter after Monday’s forced landing.

Jim Peters, a spokesman with the FAA, confirmed that Tuesday. “FAA issues the pilot certificates, so the agency is the one that would take action if warranted,” he said.

At an impromptu press conference held within hours of the incident, Middle Township Police Chief Christopher Leusner said police had secured the scene in advance of investigators from the NTSB.

The Cape May County Sheriff’s Department and officials with the Cape May County Prosecutor’s Office were also on scene, assisting Middle Township Police. Firefighters and other emergency crews also responded.

No one was hurt on the ground, and the pilot managed to bring the chopper down in a recreation field without damaging any houses.

“Dan saw the field to his left, and he made every attempt to get to that spot,” Bosak said. “He did tremendous job is saving property and lives, and I’m very proud of both of them.”

The helicopter is registered as a four-seat, single engine Hiller UH-12E from 1982.

The mosquito department uses the helicopter to reach remote areas on the marshes of Cape May County, and has volunteered its use during emergencies and missing person searches.

Christie Rotondo, Bill Barlow and David Benson contributed to this report.

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