San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Deputy Donald James De Meulle died as the result of the crash of the Hughes 500 helicopter into Lake Silverwood at 1:15 p.m. on Thursday, July 31.
Deputy De Meulle was riding as observer in the craft with pilot Deputy Stephen Nix. The accident was the first fatality in San Bernardino County Sheriff’s aviation history.
The helicopter was on routine patrol enroute to Victorville from the Rialto airport when it hit Edison high voltage transmission lines adjacent to Lake Silverwood in the San Bernardino Mountains. At least one witness reported the aircraft’s engine to be emitting an erratic sound as it flew at a low altitude into the power lines. The chopper broke up on impact with the tail rotor section falling to the ground at the edge of the lake. The cockpit section with the main rotor then dived at a steep angle into the lake emitting flames at it fell according to witness on the ground. A shower of shrapnel-like parts showered the beach and lake area injuring a ten-year-old boy riding a jet ski and a 30-year-old woman who was lying on the beach.
According to a Sheriff’s spokesman, both observer De Meulle and pilot Nix were in the cockpit as it submerged in 12 feet of water. Deputy Nix, although suffering a broken neck vertebrae and back injuries, was able to release himself from his harness and rise to the lake surface, When Deputy De Meulle did not emerge from the cockpit, Nix made at least three attempts to dive below the surface and free his observer. Unsuccessful, Nix shouted for help to save his partner.
Several persons responded to the call for help including lifeguard Jeffrey Miller, 21, of Fontana. Miller sustained cuts and inhaled fuel while attempting to rescue De Meulle. Fifteen minutes elapsed before De Meulle was removed from the submerged helicopter.
De Meulle, 28, of Chino Hills was airlifted to San Bernardino County Medical Center by a Sheriff’s helicopter where he was pronounced dead at 2:37 p.m. De Meulle was a former Army helicopter pilot with more than 2,5000 hours of flight experience. He joined the Sheriff’s Department 2 ½ years ago. He leaves his wife Marilu, and two children, Danielo Allen, 6, and Kristy Anne, 4.
The pilot, Deputy Stephen Nix was airlifted to Loma Linda University Medical Center where his condition was listed as good.