A 69-year-old St. Helena Island man died Monday morning after the recreational aircraft he was flying crashed on Lady’s Island.
Sam Dollenmeier died at Beaufort Memorial Hospital just before noon, Beaufort County Coroner Ed Allen said. Dollenmeier was flying a gyrocopter when the aircraft crashed at Beaufort County Airport at about 9:40 a.m.
A forensic autopsy at Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston on Tuesday will determine the cause and manner of Dollenmeier’s death, Allen said.
Federal aviation and transportation safety officials are investigating the crash, Sheriff’s Office Capt. Bob Bromage said. Sheriff’s deputies secured the crash scene and the airport is temporarily closed to traffic, he said.
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The National Transportation Safety Board will determine the cause of the crash, a Federal Aviation Administration spokesperson said.
The kit-built gyroplane is known for being stable in high winds and capable of cross country trips, said Chris Lord, a Florida-based pilot who is among a handful of examiners in the country who can issue gyroplane pilot licenses.
Dollenmeier had logged more than 250 hours in gyroplanes, said Lord, who has visited Beaufort County and flown with Dollenmeier.
Pilots must be licensed and the aircraft registered with the FAA. Dollenmeier held a private pilot license with an instrument rating to fly an airplane and a sport pilot license to fly a gyroplane, Lord said.
“He was more than capable as a pilot,” Lord said.
Earning a license requires a minimum of 20 hours of work but usually requires about 60 hours, Lord said, including an FAA knowledge test, training solo and with an instructor and a practical test.
Gyroplanes are generally used for recreation and typically fly 500 to 1,500 feet. But the aircraft can reach altitudes as high as 26,000 feet, travel as fast as about 120 mph and slower than 20 mph.
Unlike helicopters, gyrocopters can’t land vertically and need a runway.
“We can do about 80 percent of what a helicopter can do for about 10 percent of the cost,” said Lord, who has 3,000 hours of flight time in the aircraft.
Kits can cost about $85,000 to $120,000, Lord said. The AutoGyro Calidus, the model the FAA said crashed on Lady’s Island, is imported from Germany and built by the owners in Maryland, Lord said.
Once kits are built, pilots log 40 hours of flight time with the FAA to ensure the craft is in good working order.
After that, pilots can fly anywhere in the country.