Those copters flying overhead? They’re looking for fire hazards, not injured hikers

A helicopter flying over a San Carlos neighborhood for about four hours on Monday afternoon prompted a flurry of phone calls to Corporate Helicopters out of Montgomery Field.

A spokesperson from Corporate Helicopters said the helicopter was one of three being used by San Diego Gas & Electric as part of state-mandated wildfire safety inspections of electric towers, poles and substations.

Mark Strawn, a San Carlos resident since 1982, was one of the callers to Corporate Helicopters. He had been monitoring the chopper’s movements via air traffic data after he said the low-flying helicopter was sticking close to his family’s home near Cowles Mountain.

The helicopter flew low, Strawn said. It occasionally hovered in the same location for several minutes and made repeated passes along the same set of lines in a distinctive pattern.

Strawn said that while helicopters are common in the area because people regularly are rescued from the mountain by either the San Diego Fire Department or California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection helicopters, he saw that it was not “a government helicopter.”

“I was concerned because of the close proximity of the helicopter to our house,” Strawn said. “I looked up and I realized it wasn’t San Diego Fire Department or Cal Fire. A few times a week, there’s a rescue on the mountain and we’re always conscious of fire in San Diego so I always check when there’s a helicopter.”

SDG&E spokesperson Candace Hadley verified the helicopter was part of the company’s ongoing 2021 Wildfire Mitigation Plan.

She said SDG&E is using helicopters equipped with Light Detection and Ranging technology to inspect overhead electric power lines and equipment throughout the region’s “High Fire Threat District.” Residents throughout the county may see helicopters flying near power lines until January 2022.

“These inspections are done to ensure the safety of our electric power lines and identify potential risks, related to vegetation and other hazards, and if any repairs are needed,” Hadley said.

She said posts about the inspections are being shared on NextDoor in areas where they will be taking place. More than 30,000 residents have been sent letters by mail with information on the project, she said. The letters explain what to expect, potential impacts (such as increased noise levels and dust) and a phone number they can call for more information.

Strawn said he hadn’t received any notifications from the company.

The Corporate Helicopters spokesperson said that SDG&E has been leasing three types of helicopters — a Bell JetRanger, a Bell LongRanger and an A-Star (also known as an Air Bus) — to conduct ongoing inspections.



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