Sheriff's Office helicopter makes emergency landing at Sawgrass

Undersheriff says pilot experienced mechanical issue at 1,100 feet

By Erik Avanier - Reporter

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. - Two St. Johns County deputies were briefly hospitalized Wednesday evening after a Sheriff's Office helicopter made an emergency landing on the 17th fairway of the Dye's Valley Course at TPC Sawgrass, which is the sister track to The Players Stadium Course, authorities said.

It happened early Wednesday evening at the course, which wasn't open at the time, near 7 Mile Drive and Tournament Players Club Boulevard.

According to the Sheriff's Office report, the helicopter the helicopter's pilot and co-pilot were on patrol, flying the perimeter of The Players Championship at about 1,100 feet in the air, just before 6 p.m. when the pilot realized there was a mechanical issue and needed to set the Bell OH-58 on the ground.

Undersheriff Matt Cline said the pilot, Deputy Matthew Bellamy, was able to put the helicopter, known as Air-1, in autorotation and land safely on an open area of the golf course with no trees.

Autorotation is the process of allowing the helicopter to safely glide to the ground thanks to lift that is produced by fast-moving rotor blades, even after engine failure.

"Probably around two to three minutes -- he was landing the bird with no power," Cline said.

Not only did Bellamy have to land without power, he had to navigate the helicopter around obstacles.

“He had to fly this helicopter over a bunch of power lines that are probably almost 100 feet in the air," Cline said. "He had to clear those then clear an oak tree and then bring it in on autorotation right onto the fairway.”

Bellamy and his co-pilot, Deputy Stacy Ettel, were out of the aircraft and walking around. Ettel had several cuts and one of his lower legs. Both were taken to Beaches Baptist Hospital for evaluation.

According to the Sheriff's Office report, there was visible structural damage to the helicopter. The National Transportation Safety Board and Federal Aviation Administration were notified and gave clearance to transport the helicopter to the hanger at North Florida Regional Airport on Wednesday night.

News4Jax learned the helicopter was being checked Thursday by mechanics. If they figure out what the mechanical issue was, the helicopter will have to pass an inspection before it can fly again.

The Sheriff's Office planned to use the helicopter to monitor traffic for The Players, and is mulling over asking the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office if it can send one of its helicopters. 

News4Jax learned that Ettel has long worked with Tim Tebow on security.

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