Four escape smoking helicopter before it is engulfed by flames

Calfire crews work to put out flames that engulfed a helicopter shortly after its emergency landing near Cienega Road and Airline Highway in the Paicines area.

Ken Kamplain was the passenger in a private helicopter that was
forced to land today in a Paicines area field before it burst into
flames, shortly after the pilot and three passengers had escaped
without injuries.

We noticed a little bit of smell in the cockpit,

Kamplain said, standing near the scene as firefighters finished
extinguishing the Hughes 500 helicopter.

A few minutes later, it got a little stronger and a little bit
of smoke came into the cockpit. We noticed
– we’ve got to do something quick.

Ken Kamplain was the passenger in a private helicopter that was forced to land today in a Paicines area field before it burst into flames, shortly after the pilot and three passengers had escaped without injuries.

He recalled noticing smoke while they were about 1,000 feet up around 2:15 p.m. They were here from their home in Paso Robles because Kamplain and his friend, the pilot and aircraft owner, take their daughters – ages 11 and 13 – to Benecia each week for choir practice.

“We noticed a little bit of smell in the cockpit,” Kamplain said, standing near the scene as firefighters finished extinguishing the Hughes 500 helicopter. “A few minutes later, it got a little stronger and a little bit of smoke came into the cockpit. We noticed – we’ve got to do something quick.”

He said they started to look for somewhere to land and found the open field – surrounded by vineyards and rolling hills – near Cienega Road and Airline Highway where they ultimately landed. After circling, they went in for the landing. About six feet before the ground, he said they first noticed flames in the back of the helicopter. But with a smooth landing, they rushed out their daughters and started grabbing bags inside the aircraft.

About 30 seconds after getting out, he said, “We turned around and it was engulfed.”

After the fact, Kamplain said he was “just glad to be here on the ground.”

Calfire responded to the fire and crews worked to put out the flames that destroyed the helicopter, while the aircraft was extinguished shortly before 3 p.m.

The San Benito County Sheriff’s Office and California Highway Patrol also responded.

The pilot of the helicopter was unavailable to comment immediately.

Look back for video from the emergency landing.

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