Helicopters court danger under Coronado bridge

Tuna pilots are worst offenders

It’s not illegal to fly a helicopter under the Coronado Bay Bridge, but the people at Caltrans, the state transportation department, may make it so. Bob Petree and JoeReynolds fly news helicopters for channel 39 and channel 10 respectively, and both have had occasion to fly and hover under the 200-foot-tall span. Petree recalls only two instances when he’s done it; the more recent was last year when a car plunged off the bridge and Petree maneuvered his copter in below the span to train his station’s camera on the rescue effort, “It’s not that it’s unsafe,” says Petree. “It’s that I don’t want to get the reputation of being a cowboy, so I try not to do it,” Channel 10’s Reynolds says he’ll go under the span sometimes if he can get a better shot of an incoming navy ship, and he says it’s sometimes safer to fly below the span than to tax the copter by climbing over the bridge while carrying a full crew and gear.

Both pilots says the underspan maneuver isn’t dangerous, though Petree thinks the jockeying of the tuna boat helicopter pilots, who more frequently fly below the span, sometimes borders on the acrobatic. Caltrans, which oversees bridge safety and administration, says there is no law prohibiting helicopters from flying under the bridge (planes must clear the span by 2000 feet above or 1000 feet to the side), but agency spokesman, Jim Larson, says his boss may try to have the practice banned. ‘The F.A.A. [Federal Aviation Administration] has told us they’re not worried…that the pilots are all skilled,” says Larson. “I say, well the drivers at the Indy 500 are safe, too, and look what happens.” But at least Larson doesn’t have to worry about Helicopters pilots flying underneath freeway overpasses — one Los Angeles news copter pilot did that recently and was hired.

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