Three people were injured after the helicopter they were on while filming a boat below crashed into the Gulf of Mexico off the north end of Anna Maria Island on Wednesday morning.
The crash site is about one to two miles off Anna Maria, almost due west from the Sandbar restaurant.
The small helicopter was flying low, about 10 to 15 feet above the gulf, as those aboard were filming and photographing the boat when the pilot lost control and the helicopter crashed into the water, according to Manatee County Public Safety Director Robert Smith.
Those aboard the boat, which included visitors to the area, pulled the survivors out of the water as the helicopter was sinking and called 911.
Of those on board the helicopter at the time of the crash, two were taken to Blake Medical Center to be treated for their injuries. The pilot, a Sarasota man in his 60’s, was listed in critical condition after suffering a head injury, and one passenger was being evaluated and was listed in stable condition.
A third person refused treatment for his superficial injuries.
There was a fourth person aboard the helicopter, based on recorded audio from the 911 call made from the boat. That person walked away from the crash uninjured, however, Smith said.
“We got multiple injuries. We got a guy with his ear torn off. It’s bad,” one of those aboard the boat told a 911 dispatcher. “He’s got half an ear torn off and he’s choking blood.”
They were instructed to apply steady to one survivor’s head injury and given directions on how to get to the Coquina Beach South Boat Ramp where an ambulance was standing by. The dispatcher stayed on the line with those on the boat as they made their way toward the boat ramp, until they were met by the U.S. Coast Guard.
Members of the U.S. Coast Guard St. Petersburg’s Sector boarded the boat to provide medical care while they were escorted to the boat ramp.
The Robinson R44 single rotor helicopter is registered to Sarasota Helicopter Services LLC. A call to Sarasota Helicopter for comment has not been returned.
Manatee County Marine Rescue, the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office, Bradenton Beach, Longboat Key and Sarasota police departments, West Manatee Fire Rescue and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission all responded to the scene of the crash to assist the Coast Guard.
The crash site was not visible from the beach, which was filled with beach-goers enjoying the above average temperatures and clear skies on Wednesday.
“We think it may have actually ended up on a sandbar because it hasn’t sunk any further, but only the tail is out of the water at this point, “ Smith said.
The wreckage was located and marked using sonar, according to the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office.
The Federal Aviation Administration and The National Transportation Safety Board were notified of the crash to remove the wreckage and investigate the crash. Spokesmen at the federal agencies were unavailable to provide details because they are on furlough because of the partial shutdown of the federal government.
FAA official Gregory Martin was reached but he did not have any details regarding the crash, he said.
“We prioritize limited resources during this partial shutdown,” Martin said in an email to a Bradenton Herald reporter when asked if investigators were responding to the wreckage and beginning their investigation during the shutdown.