QUICK RESCUE : Copter Carrying 6 Makes Emergency Landing in Sea

Times Staff Writers

A helicopter pilot and his five passengers were rescued from the Pacific Ocean off Santa Catalina Island on Thursday after the craft, which shuttled passengers between Avalon and Long Beach, made an emergency landing in the ocean, authorities said.

Federal Aviation Administration officials said the helicopter lost power about 12 1/2 miles from Catalina and landed about 11:30 a.m. No one was injured.

A passing sailboat, the Sea Gem of Newport Beach, rescued everyone aboard the French-made Aerospatiale helicopter and transferred them to a U.S. Coast Guard search-and-rescue vessel, which carried them to the Coast Guard station at Terminal Island, officials said.

Looked for Boat

The pilot said he looked for a boat that he could land near, and officials said the craft was in the water less than a minute before those aboard were rescued.

"The company called up and told me the copter had force-landed in the (San Pedro) channel," Coast Guard Chief George Simpson said. He said that as soon as he received the call, he called a district office that put out an emergency rescue call. The Sea Gem radioed back to say it was already in the vicinity.

"They weren't in the water more than 30 or 40 seconds," Simpson said. "They got a little wet."

Those rescued were the pilot, Barry Sprague, 34, of San Diego; Saki Kavouniaris, 32, of Daly City; Nicholas Kriticos, 40, and John Varelas, 33, of San Francisco; Kristi Turner, 43, of Toyon Bay, and Kevin Anderson, 37, of Avalon.

None of those aboard needed medical attention and all left the Coast Guard station at Terminal Island within 20 minutes.

Sprague's wife said he called to tell her that he was fine and that the experience "didn't bother him at all."

"He's a very good pilot," Sharon Sprague said. "He said there was a loud boom, and I guess he just auto-rotated down to the water. He saw a sailboat, so he tried to get as close to it as he could so they would be picked up."

She said auto-rotating is a maneuver pilots execute when their engines fail.

Anderson, the manager of Avalon's Zane Grey Hotel, called his friend Karen Baker, who owns the hotel, to tell her that he was all right.

"He's running on adrenaline," Baker said. "It was miraculous, one of those fluke things that happens."

Turner, a board member of the Catalina Island Marine Institute, told her father that she had debated "taking the helicopter again or taking the boat."

Turner, who operates an oceanography school for youngsters, frequently travels between the island and Long Beach, and she often takes the helicopter, said her father, Herman Dietz of La Verne.

The helicopter, owned by an air taxi service, Island Express Helicopters Inc. of Long Beach, was equipped with emergency inflatable pontoons that allowed the pilot and passengers to remain on board until they were picked up, said Mike Perry, a spokesman for the company in Avalon.

After the rescue, the helicopter flipped upside-down in the water and was seriously damaged.

A spokesman for the firm salvaging the helicopter identified it as a model AS-350D, valued at $1 million.

"It is floating upside-down about five feet below the surface in just under 3,000 feet of water," said Richard Nikas of the Vessel Assist Assn. of America in Costa Mesa.

He said that tow lines and inflated "lift bags" had been attached to the helicopter and that the company would have it out of the water by this morning.

Times staff writers James Rainey and Ron Soble also contributed to this story.

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