Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Southwest Broward, Florida: Low fog sends high-flying helicopter to Cooper City parking lot

Because of fog, helicopter pilot Paul Appleton landed early Wednesday in a parking lot of a Cooper City shopping plaza near Flamingo Road and Stirling Road.
(Jim Donnelly for the Sun Sentinel)

A helicopter pilot was forced to land in the middle of a Cooper City strip mall parking lot early Wednesday after heavy fog blocked his visibility.

Paul Appleton was piloting his Robinson R- 22 helicopter with his passenger, Javier Romera, when they were forced to do a precautionary landing at the parking lot in the 5800 block of South Flamingo Road due to the heavy fog.

Appleton and Romera, a Spaniard who also has his pilot's license, had taken a ride over South Beach and Government Cut. They stopped at Tamiami Executive Airport for gas, took off around 12:10 a.m. and were headed back to Fort Lauderdale Executive Airport when the clouds got too close for comfort.

"You can get into trouble in a second," Appleton said of his decision to land in the parking lot.

They landed without incident and were waiting for fog to clear up to take off Wednesday and make their way to the airport, which is about 13 and a half miles from where they were forced to land.

The incident wasn't Appleton's first run-in with problems in the air. Two years ago, on Super Bowl Sunday, he was flying over SunLife Stadium when a turkey vulture flew into his windshield. He landed and the bird flew off leaving him with just a scratch.

Appleton, a Cleveland firefighter and snowbird, said he has been flying since 1999 and added he is "lucky in unlucky situations."

COOPER CITY—  Helicopter pilot Paul Appleton wasn't shopping for a new sweater, heading for Publix or hankering for an Egg McMuffin, but he landed his small helicopter early Wednesday in a Cooper City parking lot convenient to all those things. Because of fog.

It was a routine flight with several planned stops when Appleton and a passenger took off about 11:15 p.m. Tuesday from Fort Lauderdale Executive Airport.

After a fuel stop at Tamiami Airport in southwest Miami-Dade, Appleton said he was cleared for a sightseeing flyover at Miami International Airport when he noticed a sudden fog near the ground, hampering his visibility.

"That fog came in out of nowhere," he said.

Searching for options, Appleton pointed his Robinson R22 toward the northwest where he noticed it was clearer. Somewhere over Cooper City Appleton observed that his nearby landing options were fogged in, so he circled the well-lit parking lot and put down in front a Steinmart department store.

The plaza is near Flamingo Road and Stirling Road, across the street from Archbishop McCarthy High School.

After the fog lifts, and he gets clearance from local aviation officials, Appleton is planning to take off again.

Until then, the shopping and breakfast options are still available.

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