AUBURN — Two men escaped injury Thursday morning when the helicopter they were riding in dropped to the ground suddenly at the end of the runway at Auburn-Lewiston Municipal Airport.

Pilot Tim O’Leary of Gorham said he lost control of the rented helicopter when it turned sideways to the wind.

O’Leary, who flew helicopters thousands of hours in the U.S. Army, including during Operation Desert Storm, said he had logged about 40 hours in the two-seater he rented from local helicopter company MTM Helicopters Inc. He was planning a sight-seeing flight with a friend.

The aircraft sat crumpled on grass just short of the tarmac where it landed unexpectedly shortly before 9 a.m. Auburn Police Cpl. Donald Gosselin said the incident would be reported to the Federal Aviation Administration.

O’Leary said he had just lifted off a nearby ramp and was about 5 feet off the ground hovering and waiting to taxi when he lost control of the tail of the helicopter. That’s when it plummeted.

“If I had been up any higher, I think it could have been a lot worse,” he said.

The owner of the helicopter rents the aircraft to about a half-dozen licensed pilots, O’Leary said. They cost roughly $300,000 new. O’Leary said he felt bad for the owner, though insurance ought to cover the cost of repair or replacement.

O’Leary said goodbye to his passenger, telling him he’d check in later on his health. “I’m fine,” the man said. “But the ride was too short.” 

Cpl. Don Gosselin of the Auburn Police Department takes a look at the helicopter that crashed at the Auburn-Lewiston Municipal Airport in Auburn on Thursday morning.

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