Flight Instructor, Student Killed in Helicopter Crash

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A helicopter instructor and flight student were killed when their helicopter spun out of control and crashed near the Corona Freeway in the community of Wildomar, a Riverside County sheriff's spokesman said Saturday.

Deputies found a man and woman in the wreckage of the accident that occurred about 2:50 p.m. Friday. The names and ages of the victims were being withheld pending notification of relatives, said Riverside County Sheriff's Deputy Mark Lohman.

The instructor and student were on a training flight a week before the student's scheduled final examination for a private pilot's license, said Gary Mucho, a spokesman for the National Transportation Safety Board.

Witnesses told an NTSB investigator that they saw debris falling from the aircraft as it spun and heard loud popping noises just before the helicopter hit the ground. No one was injured on the ground.

"Witnesses said they heard a bang, bang. And, then saw the aircraft hit the ground," Mucho said.

The helicopter crashed in a vacant field, a quarter of a mile north of Clinton Keith Road and about 600 feet east of the freeway. Sheriff's deputies said the nearest homes and structures were at least a half a mile away.

The helicopter was en route from Brackett Field in La Verne to French Valley Airport in Murrieta. Mucho did not know how far the helicopter had flown before the crash.

Cause of the accident was under investigation by officials from both the NTSB and Federal Aviation Administration who were at the scene, the sheriff's spokesman said.

Officials from both agencies said they found personal items and a section of the tail rotor about 500 feet north of the scene.

"The tail rotor section and blades were found 500 feet from the site," Mucho said. "It's obvious that something came apart in the air, and that's what we're looking at in our investigation."

A spokesman for U.S. Air, which the NTSB identified as operator of the helicopter and flight school in La Verne, could not be reached Saturday.

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