State Rep. Bill Wadsworth, 59, of Farmington was returning home from the shoreline in his Robinson R22 helicopter Saturday when it started spinning out of control.
As a licensed pilot who has been flying helicopters since the 1970s, Wadesworth said he knew within seconds that “there was no time for being afraid of it.”
The helicopter lost its tail rotor and started spinning at a high rate of rotation almost immediately.
“It happened so fast,” Wadsworth said Tuesday outside the House chamber.
“The reaction to that through training was to drop the collective and it immediately steadied itself in one direction, rather than spinning,” he recalled.
By the time the helicopter hit the tree line there was almost immediate loss of control for the last 80 feet it dropped, he said.
He said it did manage to land upright with a slight tilt to the right passenger side where his girlfriend, Irene Vanhulsentop, was seated. He said he was able to get out first because his seatbelt was on the left side and then he attended to Vanhulsentop.
“With the smell of gasoline in the air — we had just filled up our tanks,” Wadsworth said he knew he had to act fast. The sound of gas gurgling out of the tank and a hot engine was not a good combination.
“I knew the possibility for further disaster could have been there so I unhooked Irene from her seatbelt and even though she was injured and complaining about her back — which was reasonable — I picked her up and carried her away from the machine,” he recalled.
He said he initially refused treatment at the scene but did spend some time in the hospital. He said he didn’t check himself into the hospital until he was certain Vaughn was getting proper care.
“I was more concerned about getting Irene to the trauma center,” Wadsworth said.
He said he’s certain Vaughn won’t be going up again in a helicopter and that his “flying days have come to an end.”
“I’m happy to keep both feet on the ground,” he added. “I loved the perspective of seeing the world in the third dimension and I’ve always enjoyed that for the past 30-something years. I think it’s time to focus on something a little less risky.”
Wadsworth said he has had to “get myself to the ground” on three other occasions, but he had been alone during each of those flights.
“Having a responsibility for a passenger is a much greater responsibility,” Wadsworth said.
Wadsworth said he received a few bruises but nothing serious. He attended the House session Tuesday.