HUNTINGTON BEACH : Copter Pilot Picked Up Boss, Officials Say

The Huntington Beach police officer who flew one of the department's helicopters to Riverside County went at the request of a boss--an off-duty sergeant--and the sergeant's female companion after their car broke down there, city officials said Friday.

As a result, City Administrator Paul E. Cook said, the pilot will probably receive no more than a reprimand, while the sergeant could receive more severe punishment.

"We're blaming the sergeant," Cook said. He refused to release the names of either of the city employees involved in the incident last week.

Until Friday, officials had confirmed only that a police pilot took an unauthorized flight to the desert community of Indio to pick up an off-duty officer and his girlfriend. They never mentioned, however, that the officer being picked up was one of the pilot's bosses.

Cook said earlier this week that the trip violated city policy on the use of the department's three police helicopters, which cost hundreds of dollars an hour to operate. Ferrying the female passenger aboard the craft gave the city an unnecessary insurance risk, he said.

Police Chief Ronald E. Lowenberg said that in the wake of the incident, the department has already changed the rules regarding use of the helicopter. Now, the bureau commander, a lieutenant, must authorize cross-county flights. Previously, those flights outside of the city could be approved by the chief pilot, a sergeant, according to Lowenberg.

He said one of the employees involved in the incident has been placed on leave with pay pending outcome of the internal affairs investigation.

The pilot who made the trip to Indio tried to justify the trip as a training flight, required under Federal Aviation Administration rules in order for pilots to remain credentialed for flights outside of the city.

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