By Bob Pool, Los Angeles Times
February 18, 2013
He loved fast cars — Ferraris and racing Porsches — and even faster aircraft.
More than that, Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department helicopter pilot Anthony M. Pachot loved his job patrolling his more than 4,000-square-mile beat from the air.
Pachot, the department's first African American pilot, died of cancer Feb. 11 in Los Angeles. He was 65.
During his 33-year-career as a deputy, he managed to walk away after a harrowing midair collision and survived several attempts by gunmen to shoot him out of the sky.
Along the way, he saved countless lives by plucking lost hikers off rocky ledges and out of narrow canyons and navigating his AS350 B2 Eurocopter through webs of power lines to pull children from rain-swollen storm channels.
One of those rescues, involving two boys being washed down Big Dalton Creek near West Covina in 2001, earned Pachot and his partner a Rescue of the Year award from an international helicopter pilots association.
Born Jan. 4, 1948, in Port of Spain, Trinidad, Pachot was living in Ladera Heights and working as a water company salesman in 1970 when he decided to enter law enforcement after an encounter with two Los Angeles police officers. He was on his way to a dinner date when they pulled him over in South Los Angeles for supposedly having a burned-out license plate light.
"It was pouring rain and I was wearing a suit," he later recounted. "They wouldn't let me get the umbrella from my car. Then they purposely dropped my car registration in the gutter water. I was livid. That day I decided to become a cop so I could make sure others weren't treated that way."
After joining the Sheriff's Department in 1975, Pachot worked as a jailer, a patrol deputy at the Firestone station and a detective. Because he had a pilot's license, he applied to work at the sheriff's Aero Bureau in Long Beach.
His very first flight piloting a sheriff's helicopter gave Pachot a taste of what was in store for him.
"I had a loss of tail rotor control on my very first patrol assignment. We were hovering over car-strippers in La Puente. But the wind shifted and the helicopter started spinning. I was about 15 or 20 feet above a backyard," he later said.
Neighbors were upset with the low-flying helicopter, and one man ran out of his house with a gun and shot at Pachot's aircraft as it struggled to gain altitude. One woman complained that the helicopter was so low that it clipped her lemon tree.
"When we landed, I found pieces of lemon pulp on the tail rotor. At the time I didn't think about getting hurt. I was thinking that people were probably wondering why they had made me a pilot," he joked later.
There were other close calls. Flying over East Los Angeles in 1989 with the police chief of Bangkok, Thailand, sitting in his chopper's back seat, his aircraft was struck by gunfire.
"I took two rounds in the fuel cell. We could smell fuel leaking out. At first I thought I'd left the fuel cap off," Pachot said in 2008. Two bullet holes were found in the fuel tank when Pachot made an emergency landing at Martin Luther King Jr./Drew Medical Center. That incident led to the department using self-sealing tanks on its helicopters.
Pachot's most frightening moment came when a Compton police helicopter collided with his at the scene of a 1990 gang fight near Florence and Central avenues.
"I saw a shadow. I couldn't tell that it was a helicopter, but I knew it shouldn't be there," he later recounted. "I pushed to the right and there was a tremendous boom. Suddenly we were going straight down."
Pachot was able to land safely in a schoolyard, and the Compton helicopter set down in a church parking lot. Both crews escaped injury. It was later learned that the other pilot did not hear Pachot announce his position 500 feet above the ground because he had turned down the volume of his flight radio to listen to the Compton police frequency.
When Pachot retired in 2008 after 20 years as a sheriff's pilot, he intended to start a helicopter charter company. Instead, he worked as a consultant to companies acquiring helicopters and as a reserve sheriff's deputy, according to Sheriff's Aero Bureau Sgt. Jon Brick, a friend for 23 years.
"He was one of the best training instructors we've had," Brick said Friday. "He had really high expectations for people training to be tactical flight deputies, the ones who operate the search equipment and coordinate the response with people on the ground. His thing was some deputy's life on the ground is going to be up to you."
Pachot is survived by his parents, Carlton and Cynthia Pachot; his son Gavin Pachot; two grandsons; and a sister, Brenda Pachot.
Funeral services will be held at 10 a.m. Saturday at the City of Refuge Church, 14527 S. San Pedro St., Gardena.
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