BRUNSWICK COUNTY, NC (WECT) – Crews responded to a helicopter crash near the Oak Island Pier Thursday afternoon in front of a crowd of beachgoers.
Following the crash, the helicopter, said to be an R-22 Mariner, was brought to shore shortly after 6 p.m., Brunswick County Emergency Management officials say. The boat belongs to Boatpix.com, a company that takes photos from the air.
WECT contacted the company, but our calls have not yet been returned.
According to the incident report, several witnesses said the helicopter was flying low and fast, appearing to experience "rapid elevation changes rising and falling."
Witnesses also confirmed seeing the crash happen approximately 200 yards west of the pier, saying that the helicopter hit the water and then flipped over. A nearby boat rescued both of the people who were on board the chopper at the time of the crash.
911 call one:
Dispatch: "Oak Island 911. What is your emergency?"
Caller: "Yes sir, you've got a helicopter crash off the Yaupon Pier."
Dispatch: "There's a what crash?"
Caller: "A helicopter just crashed at the tip of Yaupon Pier right now."
Caller: "Five seconds ago. Send them out."
Dispatch: "Oak Island 911, what is your emergency?"
Caller: "[inaudible] …about 1,000 feet off of the Oak Island Pier, upside down."
Dispatch: "OK. Let me—"
Caller: "We have a boat, uhh, we have a boat at 'em right now."
Dispatch: "OK, I'll try to get somebody out there."
While hundreds witnessed the helicopter crash into the ocean from the pier and the beach, there were two men in particular who many say were at the right place at the right time.
Not only did they witness the aircraft fall from the sky, but they helped save the victims inside.
"I was like, 'Well, what's he doing?' And by the time that came out of my mouth, Matt said, 'I think he's gonna crash,' said fishing boat captain Steve Peloza.
For Peloza, Thursday afternoon was anything but another day of fishing.
"He hit the water, and I mean it slapped the helicopter over," he said. "I can't believe it didn't knock them unconscious."
What was supposed to be a day of flying over the water in Oak Island quickly took a turn for the worse.
"I've never seen anything like that. It's probably the biggest thing I've caught all year."
Peloza and Camden Johnson were on the boat that many say helped save the lives of the two victims. They couldn't do much but watch as the helicopter took a nose dive straight into the ocean.
The two say it wasn't long before the pilot popped up through the ocean water, which is when they made every effort to get him on their boat along with his co-pilot.
Peloza says the pilot told him the engine simply quit on them while they were up in the air. He also said that he was surprised at the way the Oak Island Ocean Rescue handled the crash, saying that when they put their rescue boat in the water, they didn't have any medical supplies with them.
Water rescue told WECT.com that they respond to calls to bring people to shore, not to treat them for injuries.
The aircraft had water pontoons, which are to be used for water landings. The pontoons kept the chopper afloat as it was upside down in the sea.
The pilot and passenger Marie Kojimoto were stabilized and taken to the shore with non-life-threatening injuries. They were taken to New Hanover Regional Medical Center, but have since been released.
According to a spokesperson for the FAA, aviation safety inspectors will go to Oak Island Friday to investigate and gather evidence. They also plan to interview the pilot when he is physically okay to speak.
The National Transpiration Safety Board will be responsible for finding the probable cause of the accident.