Hovering helicopter causes concern

By LYNETTE HAALAND, Four Points News

An Estates of Westridge couple said that Saturday afternoon a helicopter was flying so low in front of their house it seemed like it was at their roofline. The helicopter seemed like it was about to land on their front yard, said Matt Young, the homeowner.

“(It) totally stirred up leaves and mulch everywhere,” Young said. They opened their front door to see what was going on and debris flew in their house. Yard debris blew into their garage too.

“Debris was blowing so hard someone could have gotten hurt,” Young said.

Gary Starzmann lives a few houses down from the Youngs. He said a similar situation happened on August 16. He was at his desk and heard a helicopter nearby.

“It was really loud and not going away. He was hovering… and it looked like he was on approach for landing in the neighborhood,” said Starzmann, who flew helicopters in the U.S. Army for more than seven years.

Starzmann was standing in his driveway before he joined other neighbors who came outside to see what was going on. The neighborhood is hilly but Starzmann still lost sight of the helicopter “below the rooftops. That’s pretty telling,” he said.

Hovering helicopter on Sat., Aug. 30. Photo by Karen Trujillo

Hovering helicopter on Sat., Aug. 30.
Photo by Karen Trujillo

He thought that the dark blue helicopter might have been doing reconnaissance work for Concert in the Park and making sure a LifeFlight landing would be cleared. He didn’t know.

Last Saturday, Aug. 30, the hovering helicopter was back. Both times Starzmann estimated it to be flying at no higher than 100 feet. The two flights are thought to be by the same pilot.

Another neighbor said there was a third flight that happened between these two that scared her daughter, who was home alone. The mom thought maybe police were looking for a fugitive with the helicopter and she was worried for her daughter’s safety. She called the Travis County Sheriff’s Office, which confirmed they were not.

After Saturday’s low flight, concerned neighbors identified the helicopter by its tail number. The Bell helicopter model 429 is registered to Austin-based Texas Jacobsen Aviation.

The website says that the company was founded in 2010 by businessman Grant Jacobson to make a difference in the lives of others and provide air transportation when conventional transportation is not an option.

The company did not return calls by press time on Tuesday, but one neighbor did talk to the owner, who said he was flying over the lake and that he felt he was safe when he came up into the neighborhood.

Starzmann said that the pilot also may know people in the neighborhood.

“Facts are that this helicopter repeatedly hovered over our neighborhood in what we would call an unsafe manner. There is no reason to hover over a densely populated neighborhood, ever — he is not Lifeflight or any authority,” Starzmann said.

Federal rules governing aircraft state that there are minimum altitudes for aircraft, but helicopters are exempt from those rules. “Helicopters may be operated at less than minimum altitudes if the operation is conducted without hazard to persons or property on the surface,” Starzmann said. That was Federal Aviation Administration FAR rule section 91.119.

He added that flying at these low altitudes not only disturbs and upsets people, “but they allow for no safe maneuver room in the event of an engine failure, a wind gust, a lift and power issue, etc.,” said Starzmann, who holds a commercial helicopter pilot’s license. “I know what can happen and this is simply irresponsible.”