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Helicopter crashes into waters off Dunedin; all three occupants uninjured

Rescuers talk with pilot Gerald Reilly, left, and Michael Lasky after their helicopter crash-landed in the gulf near Caladesi Island on Friday. The pilot and his two passengers declined medical attention while  awaiting crash investigators.

Rescuers talk with pilot Gerald Reilly, left, and Michael Lasky after their helicopter crash-landed in the gulf near Caladesi Island on Friday. The pilot and his two passengers declined medical attention while awaiting crash investigators.

DUNEDIN — A privately owned helicopter crash-landed in the waters near Caladesi Island on Friday evening.

All three occupants — a local pilot and a Seminole County married couple — escaped unscathed, said Division Chief Bill McElligott of the Dunedin Fire Department. The crash was reported at 6:24 p.m.

"Air crashes in the water, you don't survive very often," said Richard Riley, the operational chief of Clearwater Fire Rescue. "In my amateur opinion, it sounds like the pilot did an excellent job."

The pilot, identified as 66-year-old Gerald L. Reilly of Tampa, reported to rescuers that he landed the gray-and-red rented Robinson R-44 helicopter in the water after experiencing mechanical or electrical problems, Pinellas County sheriff's officials said.

Reilly and his passengers, 47-year-old Michael T. Lasky and 46-year-old Judy L. Lasky of Longwood, had been flying south along the coast when they turned around to get a better view of some dolphins they spotted, officials reported.

When Reilly went to turn the helicopter back around to continue the trip, the control panel indicated there was a problem. Reilly aimed for the beach but ended up about 200 feet offshore, officials said.

The group put on life vests and got out of the helicopter, then swam in seven-foot waters to a sand bar off Caladesi Island.

Park rangers and Clearwater fire rescue workers drove from Clearwater Beach to Caladesi Island in a four-wheel-drive vehicle and picked up the three.

Then they were driven to the Clearwater Fire Department Beachside Station 46 to be checked out by paramedics.

All three refused medical treatment and were in good spirits, officials said

"We're fine," one of the male survivors told a St. Petersburg Times reporter before going into the fire station.

The group had taken off from Peter O. Knight Airport in Tampa late Friday afternoon. It is unclear where their final destination was supposed to be.

The Federal Aviation Administration was notified and interviewed the survivors. The group left the fire station at about 9:30 p.m. without talking to reporters.

Times staff writer Jamal Thalji and photographer Doug Clifford contributed to this report.

Helicopter crashes into waters off Dunedin; all three occupants uninjured 07/24/09 [Last modified: Friday, July 31, 2009 5:14pm]
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