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Police Helicopter Hit by Rifle Shots

Crippled copter lands safely; police arrest 18-year-old Van Nuys man.

A police helicopter was fired on with a high-powered rifle Sunday in Van Nuys, forcing it to make an emergency landing, and police credited the alleged gunman's family for tackling him to allow a safe arrest.

The man arrested was identified by neighbors as Danny Lopez, 18, of Van Nuys.

The helicopter was shot just after 6 a.m. over Saticoy Street and Densmore Avenue, and the pilots were able to make a safe landing—but with a dead engine—at nearby Van Nuys Airport. No one was hit by gunfire in the air or on the ground.

The helicopter was apparently one of several LAPD targets allegedly shot at early Easter Sunday by the suspect, who was described as distraught over the recent death of a friend.

In the tense minutes after the chopper was fired on, members of the alleged gunman's family confronted him in the street, an LAPD captain said. The family members tackled him, and allowed officers to arrest him without further gunfire.

Police surrounded the neighborhood north of Victory Boulevard and west of the San Diego (405) Freeway for eight hours, searching for a rumored second gunman, said Detective Gus Villanueva. No second suspect was located and the search was wrapped up just before 2:30 p.m., he said.

Just before 6 a.m., police had received a call of "shots fired" shortly before the helicopter arrived on the scene. "Our morning watch units responded to that area, and they observed an individual that was actually shooting in the direction of the police,'' said Capt. John Egan in an interview with KTLA News.

"One of the first responding supervisors, that was actually controlling the incident out there, said he saw the suspect shooting in the direction of the helicopter, and he saw smoke coming out of the helicopter,'' Egan told KTLA.

Police sealed off a large area just east of the airport and reportedly made the arrest about 7:10 a.m  near Cohasset Street and Gloria Avenue.

"The best thing about this is that no shots were fired by the police and this individual is in custody and he is unharmed,'' Egan told KTLA.

No one in the helicopter was injured as it made an "auto-rotation" landing on the apron at a charter jet service, Clay Lacy Aviation, on the airport's east side. An auto-rotation landing means the pilot was able to steer only by using air passing through powerless blades, as the aircraft falls to earth.

Once it landed, firefighters emptied it of fuel as a precaution. Tentative plans were to put it on a trailer and tow it to the Hooper Air Station, near downtown Los Angeles, for investigation and repair.

City News Service contributed to this report.

Cassandra M. Bellantoni April 25, 2011 at 06:34 PM
What a story! I'd say the officers got an Easter miracle. This could have ended in a horrible way. Thank goodness nobody was hurt at the end of the ordeal.

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