Helicopter crashes in Burtonsville

pilot, passenger injured

Chopper hits water, sinks at Rocky Gorge after its engine stalls

September 16, 2002|By Laura Vozzella | Laura Vozzella,SUN STAFF

A two-seat helicopter crashed into Rocky Gorge Reservoir yesterday after its engine apparently sputtered and stalled, injuring the pilot and passenger.

"You could hear it struggle, and it lost altitude," said Danny Stevenson, 17, of Silver Spring, who was fishing with a friend at the reservoir on the border of Howard and Montgomery counties, and alerted authorities on his cell phone about 4:15 p.m.

"You just heard the engine stall. It got real quiet and then we heard it hit the water," he said.

The pilot, Ronald K. Baptise, 37, of Laurel, was trapped in the partially submerged helicopter but was able to keep his head above water until rescuers arrived, said Pete Piringer, spokesman for the Montgomery County Fire and Rescue Service.

The passenger, Gerale Bacote, 29, of Laurel, was able to climb out on her own and wait for help on top of the craft, which later sank.

Baptise suffered serious, but non-life-threatening injuries, to his back and neck and was flown to Maryland Shock Trauma Center in Baltimore, officials said. Bacote had minor leg injuries and was taken by ambulance to Shock Trauma, they said.

The helicopter fell about 200 feet after experiencing engine trouble, Piringer said.

Rescuers had to walk about a mile and a half through thick woods to reach the crash scene on the sprawling reservoir, Piringer said.

About 65 rescuers from Montgomery, Howard and Prince George's counties responded to the accident. Some brought boats and sent swimmers out with life preservers.

The National Transportation Safety Board and Federal Aviation Administration will investigate the crash.

The helicopter went down in an area of the reservoir off Batson Road in Burtonsville, startling Stevenson and Nick Glotnis out of a peaceful afternoon of angling.

After dialing 911, the pair ran along the reservoir to get as close as they could to the helicopter, which hit the water about 30 yards off shore.

"I was freaked out," said Glotnis, 17, of Silver Spring. "I didn't know what we would see over there."

To their relief, the pair saw Bacote emerge from the helicopter and learned that the pilot had survived as well.

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