Donald Anderson Sr. routinely sees deer and other wildlife visiting the hayfield behind his Cripple Creek farmhouse, but it’s not very often he finds that a helicopter has decided to visit that same patch of grass.
Anderson, who is hard of hearing, said he didn’t notice anything out of the ordinary Aug. 3 when a large Bell 412 helicopter landed an estimated 50 yards behind his home. He lives in a secluded area in the Cripple Creek community, so he was surprised to find a stranger knocking on his front door.
“I didn’t hear anything,” Anderson said. “I was in the house watching the news. I didn’t hear anyone come up the drive, but there was a knock on the door and there was a man standing on the edge of the porch. He said he had to land his helicopter in the back of my house, that he didn’t hurt anything, it just wasn’t safe to fly and he had to land.”
Virginia State Police Trooper Brandon Frye said the police didn’t catch wind of the incident until the following day when a concerned resident from the area called to report suspicious activity.
Frye said the two men who occupied the helicopter were with the U.S. military. He said the pair was travelling in a leased helicopter used to track weather patterns across the country from New Mexico. Frye explained that they had just taken off from Mountain Empire Airport in nearby Smyth County when a warning light came on and they were forced to land.
Smyth-Wythe Airport Commission Chairman Curtis Pennington, who also owns Hangar 7 at the airport, said the stranded pilots had initially intended to bring the helicopter to his hangar for repair, but were unable to make the short trip to the next county.
Pennington explained that the pilots landed the helicopter as a precaution when the fire warning light came on in the cockpit.
“Anything with a jet engine has censors all over it,” Pennington said. “If the temperature goes up those censors tell you you’ve got a fire.”
Pennington said the warning light was believed to have come on as a result of an exhaust leak near a temperature probe.
“When the light goes on that tells you you’ve got a fire, you land,” he said.
Without being able to get the helicopter to the hangar for repair, Anderson said his visitors were forced to leave the rotorcraft behind while he took them into town to find lodging and transportation.
It would be four days between the time of their arrival and the time of their departure late Sunday evening. It took that long for an aircraft mechanic from Roanoke to make it out to the sequestered farmland to repair the out-of-commission helicopter.
“It was a pretty high-priced machine, so they didn’t want to leave it there long,” Anderson said.
This is not Wythe County’s first unexpected landing from a military helicopter, however.
In September 2009, a pilot with the Virginia Army National Guard was forced to make what the military calls a “hard landing” in an alfalfa patch on Huffard Farm between Wytheville and Rural Retreat.
During that incident the pilot was tasked with searching out marijuana plants that may have been in the area when the emergency landing was made. Unlike the more recent incident, that helicopter sustained heavy damage, but the pilot was uninjured.