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Flight Instructor Dead, Student Injured In Helicopter Crash At Hayward Airport

HAYWARD (CBS SF) -- A flight instructor died and a student suffered serious injuries Monday afternoon when a helicopter crashed at Hayward Executive Airport on Monday, a Hayward city official said.

City of Hayward public information officer Chuck Finnie said the student was taking lessons with the Pacific Helicopters flight school. The student and flight instructor were the only people in the helicopter at the time of the 2:30 p.m. crash, Finnie confirmed.

Hayward Fire officials said the helicopter crashed to the ground upside down on its top rotary blades. The instructor was pronounced dead at the scene by the Hayward Fire Department, Finnie said. He was identified as Wayne Prodger, 62, of Sunnyvale by the Alameda County Medical Examiner.

The two were practicing hovering, according to Hayward Executive Airport manager Doug McNeeley.

"They were hovering at the time. Hovering meaning they were in the air and stationary in one place. That's one of the basic things you do when you're learning to fly helicopters," explained McNeeley.

He said the crash happened suddenly.

"There was no mayday or distress call at all. It happened very fast," said McNeeley.

The Hayward Fire Department initially confirmed that two people were being transported to an area hospital in serious condition. The condition of the student was still unknown as of 10 p.m. Monday evening.

The FAA confirmed that a Robinson R44 helicopter crashed under unknown circumstances at around 2:30 p.m. on the left side of Runway 28L at Hayward Executive Airport.

Chopper 5 footage of the scene showed a helicopter that appeared to be on its side. Several Hayward police and fire units were on the scene.

Chopper 5 Pilot Kevin Eastman flew over the wreckage. He stores his helicopter at the same airport where the accident happened. Eastman said the chopper landed on the side where Prodger was likely seated.

"I've seen a lot of accidents in my time," Eastman said. "I've lost some friends as pilots."

Eastman has more than 7,000 flight hours and used to own a flight school for more than 15 years, he said. The helicopter the flight instructor and student used was similar to a student driver vehicle -- with controls on both sides so the instructor could take control if necessary.

"Something probably happened and he either didn't take control fast enough because that happens quite a bit or the student may have overpowered him," he said.

The wreckage is being guarded until a National Transportation Safety Board investigator arrives on scene Tuesday morning. It's expected to take months before a preliminary report is released on the accident.

Eastman said he had never met the pilot, but was told Prodger was experienced.

"And we never want to hear about anything like this in the industry, because it's fairly safe usually flying helicopters," he said. "But it is inherently a dangerous thing to do."

No one from Pacific Helicopter responded to a request for an interview or comment. The FAA will also be investigating the crash.

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