Helicopter Pilot Lets Lakegoers Jump Off Skids, Gets Warned by FAA

Newschannel 5, TN


NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Some people first confused a helicopter hovering dangerously low over Dale Hollow Lake as a water rescue, but new video shows it was just horsing around.

The video taken on Memorial Day shows one or two people at a time dangling from the skids of the chopper, waiting for the pilot to take them over open water where they dropped to the water below.

High resolution images sent to NewsChannel 5 by witnesses show just how close the chopper's blades came to people on boats while trying to pick-up the more divers. At one point, the pilot goes so high he's nearly at the tree line before the person hanging on drops an estimated 50 feet.

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers officials confirmed to NewsChannel 5 Wednesday they had tracked down the pilot and issued a warning, but declined to release his identity.

FAA investigators are studying the video and images before deciding if the pilot should be held accountable. The pilot could just get by with a warning letter, lose his ability to fly or have to pay a penalty, according to officials.

Retired Navy SEAL Don Shipley, who now trains future SEALS, said helicopter casting takes a tremendous amount of training and the right equipment from not only the jumper, but the pilot as well.

"It didn't look like there was any type of supervision. Monkey see, monkey do," Shipley said by phone Wednesday.

He said there's no reason a trained pilot would allow people to drop any more than 20 feet, much less hang underneath the aircraft.

"If you've got a guy hanging off the skids of the aircraft there's nobody that can see or stop or prevent anything," he said. "Safety is paramount. When you start screwing around like that and you don't know what you're doing you're asking for trouble."