A Coast Guard search and rescue helicopter experienced electrical problems and its flight crew brought it in for an unscheduled landing on the east side of Cesar Chavez Park shortly after noon on Saturday, May 20, 2017. See story in Berkeleyside. By seven p.m., the flight crew had been sent back to base and a Coast Guard maintenance crew arrived by road from the Coast Guard base on the north side of San Francisco Airport.
Headed by Commander Chris Huberty, the crew removed the four rotor blades and the short tail wings. Each rotor blade weighs 91 lbs and is attached by two pins, a design that allows two people to remove a blade without the aid of a crane or other equipment. The crew then winched the dewinged bird carefully onto a trailer specially made for the purpose. This operation ran into a problem when the weight of the craft, some 7,000 lbs, bearing down on the tail end of the trailer, popped the hitch off the ball on the back of the pickup truck, causing some colorful language, and the aircraft had to be rolled back until the hitch could be secured.
That done, the winch operation went smoothly (see video, below) and after the crew applied additional covers and tie-downs, the Coast Guard’s heavy duty pickup truck hauled the helicopter slowly off the grass and down to the paved path on the water’s edge. There, the pickup uncoupled, and a commercial tow truck hitched up and took over for the highway trip back to SFO, leaving the park at about 9:30.
This model of helicopter was made in the early 1980s and at that time cost eight million dollars, according to Commander Huberty. It has a hoist that can drop a line down to the water and haul a person aboard. It has inflatable pontoons that allow it to land on water in case of emergency. It can range 125 miles out to sea to conduct rescue or law enforcement operations. The San Francisco base has six similar craft, along with a repair and maintenance operation. Among the crew present to rescue this bird were Grace Kessler, third class petty officer and avionics electrical technician, along with Joe Smalling, third class aviation maintenance technician. They look forward to inspecting the craft and fixing what was wrong when they return to work on Monday.