Cedar Lake Fire Chief Todd Wilkening has seen a lot of things in his 37 years with the department, but Monday was a first.
Emergency personnel responded around 1 p.m. to a helicopter that crashed in the lake.
“We’ve had planes land on the lake. We’ve never had one crash. Never in 37 years. Now I can add that to the list of things I’ve seen in my career,” Wilkening said.
The helicopter owners are Cedar Lake residents and were attempting to land the Robinson R22 two-seat helicopter in a clear but gusty day, Wilkening said. The owners reportedly had tried to land the helicopter at their lakefront home and had some difficulty. They attempted to approach again and wound up landing the helicopter in the water.
Wilkening said the water landing may not have met the exact definition of a crash.
“It still ended up being pretty dramatic with the blades hitting the water,” he said. The helicopter sank and was fully submerged.
The Lake County Dive Team, which includes members from the Hobart, Merrillville, Cedar Lake and Crown Point fire department dive teams, responded to the emergency, Wilkening said.
Wilkening said a HAZMAT team was dispatched to the scene outside near the Sunset Harbors condominium development and booms were placed around the crash scene to prevent any possible contaminants from entering the lake. So far nothing hazardous has been entering the lake.
Workers were able to pull the helicopter from the lake around 5 p.m. The helicopter remained intact throughout the recovery.
The Department of Natural Resources is handling the investigation since it occurred on the water.
Town Manager Chris Salatas said officials were glad no one was injured in the crash.
Salatas said Deputy Police Chief Carl Brittingham witnessed the crash and was the first to respond to the scene with the town’s boat. No one was injured in the crash. Both occupants of the helicopter were able to exit before it sank and swim to safety.
He stressed the importance of the town having property safety equipment such as the boat for emergency response personnel to utilize. He praised first responders’ response to the crash.
“Things happen, as much as they may seem like a fluke,” Salatas said. Having equipment on scene is critical.
Much attention recently has been paid to the lake as officials launched a long-awaited dredging project that will take three years.
He said residents have been asking questions about what the dredge is bringing up from the lake’s bottom.
“A helicopter is not what you typically associate with what the dredge pulls up,” Salatas joked. The helicopter crash is unrelated to the dredging operation. However, about an hour before the helicopter was pulled from the water, Salatas received a report a boat allegedly hit the dredge pipe and water was spraying from the impact point.
“Here in Cedar Lake these oddities seem to happen on a regular basis,” Salatas said.