Pilot hurt in copter crash

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, August 28, 2002

Keith Hamilton, owner of the Freedom Flight helicopter service, was injured Friday evening when his helicopter crashed on the way to Russellville, Alabama.

The accident, which was reportedly caused by mechanical failure, happened at approximately 10 p.m. Friday.

He had planned to participate in a watermelon festival there.

Email newsletter signup

A series of miracles made it possible for Hamilton to be alive today, his wife, Bambi said Monday.

Originally his daughter had planned to ride with him, butthere was a last minute change, she said.

Bad weather caused him to put down in Tuscaloosa for a few hours. After the weather cleared he resumed the trip.

Southwest of Haleyville, the sound of the engine changed, she said. He was over a wooded area in pitch black night, she stated.

He went towards a light, which happened to be a clearing.

Hamilton performed an "auto-rotation" where he disengaged the engine from the rotor system. The air that rushes up into the blades keeps the rotor system turning, Keith Hamilton said Tuesday.

The rotor action helps for a softer fall, but he had to give up some of that rotor action to keep him flying toward the clearing.

It was a miracle that he blindly steered through two high voltage power lines, she said.

The landing was hard, and the complete structure was demolished. Hamilton went through every shock absorption that was designed into the aircraft.

Luckily, two local residents heard the helicopter in distress and saw him go down. Within five minutes, they knew where Hamilton was and took him to the Haleyville hospital.

Once it was discovered that Hamilton had 12 to 13 broken vertibrates and broken ribs, he was transferred to the UAB trauma unit, Bambi Hamilton said.

He returned home Sunday evening. His recovery time will be between three and six months. Hamilton is in a three-point back brace.

Hamilton’s helicopter was a total lost. The craft had gone through an annual maintenance several weeks ago, she said. The NTSB will examine the piston-driven engine to see if one of the exhaust valves may have gotten stuck.

Hamilton was a pilot for over five years in the military and the last 18 months in a private capacity. He has never had any emergency problems with a helicopter in the past, she said.