SANTA BARBARA, Calif. - A key piece of evidence in the investigation into a helicopter crash at the La Cumbre Country Club in Santa Barbara County has been found.
Volunteers with the Santa Barbara County Sheriff's Search and Rescue Team scoured the crash zone on Saturday. They recovered a piece of the helicopter's engine near the railroad tracks by Modoc Road, according to National Transportation Safety Board Investigator Eliott Simpson.
Several people who witnessed the crash on Friday afternoon had reported seeing helicopter parts fall from the sky.
Simpson was at the scene of the crash gathering, "perishable evidence," examining skid marks and documenting burn damage. "We will be doing a follow up wreckage examination at remote location," he said. "We will be laying out the helicopter and looking at the engine in more detail."
A preliminary report of the basic findings will be released in one-to-two weeks, according to Simpson.
The four-seat Robinson R-44 helicopter took off from the Santa Barbara Airport on Friday afternoon for a tour of the harbor. On the way back, the pilot started experiencing engine trouble and crash landed in a maintenance yard at the country club, just feet from the golf course.
The helicopter burst into flames as the male pilot and two passengers, a man and a women, extricated themselves from the wreckage. They were assisted by country club employees who used hoses and fire extinguishers to put out the flames.
All three people were taken to Cottage Hospital in an ambulance with moderate injuries.
Golfer Kevin Keating captured the crash on his cell phone. Keating is a local attorney and experienced pilot who heard the engine fail.
"I told everyone, 'Look out, this is definitely going to crash on the golf course,'" he said. His video shows the helicopter crash into the maintenance yard, but ends before it burst into flames.
Keating told employees to call 9-1-1 and rushed over and helped the pilot get into his golf cart.
"He was limping on one leg," Keating said. "He was very calm and very professional. He did a great job landing the helicopter, I told him that, from such a low altitude."
Keating said the pilot told him he was planning to return to Signature Aviation at the airport, when his engine failed.
"He lost the engine and he was just trying to get it to a safe spot to land," Keating said. "He wished he had a little more time to get to the grassy flat landing."