Things are pretty much the same, but on a much smaller scale. We had one BH-206B JetRanger helicopter assigned to Long Beach along with one other pilot that was doing flight training in the Robinson R-22. I had done a lot of flight test for pilots in the R-22, but that was about the extent of my R-22 flight experience. We still had some connections with the (DOJ) California Department of Justice. On one particular flight, I picked up an agent Dave Fuentes and we were going to do a drug surveillance flight in the Los Angeles area. You never know quite how these things will turn out. Supposedly, the person we are following is going to transport drugs somewhere in Santa Monica, CA and then sell them to a dealer in Buena Park, CA. The information provided by informants can sometimes be highly inaccurate. As a rule we would remain at altitudes of two to three thousand feet. In addition to the helicopter, their would be several unmarked cars that would follow along, and switching off from time to time. Now you would think in the mid 80's, that they would have some pretty high tech gear to communicate with. Not the case, hand held two way radios without the option of a headset and very poor transmitting capabilities. It was often hard to hear, many times messages had to be repeated with the agents yelling at the top of their voices. Meanwhile, I'm listening to what I can, but still I need to stay in contact with different agencies while flying in controlled airpace. So this should be a fairly simple flight. This flight should have taken place, all within a 50 mile radius. As I said, you never know, and it did not happen this way.
We had headed south towards Orange county, but then later, the car we were following, took the on ramp at the 91 freeway and headed east towards Riverside, CA. I could see now we were going to be short on fuel, so I elected to land at the Riverside airport and then join up with the chase later. Once we got airborne, the ground units put us back over the car we were following. Then we took a turn south and headed towards the Salton Sea. By now it is well after sunset and we are just following a set of red taillights.
If your took you eyes off of them for a second, you would lose the car in the traffic. So many times we would have to coordinate with the ground troops to point out the car we were following. The agent would blink the headlights on his car several times and then relay a message, it's the car three or four in front of us. With this kind of flying conditions, your eyes would get very tired and you are staring into the darkness for long periods of time.
It now appears that we are involved in something else, and our information from the informant, was not exactly correct. Still we continued our flight until we were nearing the United States/Mexican border. As we approached Brawley, CA, the car we were following suddenly took a turn and proceeded out into the desert away from the town. I think now the bad guys either suspect they are being followed, or they are trying to make one last effort to be sure they were not being followed. The ground crews elected to stop in Brawley, and let us continue the surveillance. I don't think they were ever aware the helicopter was overhead. I was then asked to drop down to a lower altitude and turn off our navigation lights. It's now completely dark on the desert and it's becoming more and more difficult to see the car on the ground. Then for some unknown reason, the car we were following, turned off their lights. Now it's impossible to see anything. We elected to increase our distance away from where we last saw them and wait it out. Sure enough, we saw the car again with it's lights on, and proceeding on to Calexico, CA where they met another car that had just crossed the border at Mexicali, Mexico. Several hours passed while they were doing their deal , then our ground crews from the California Department of Justice and the DEA, moved in and made the bust. Several arrest were made and a ton of illegal drugs were recovered along with several million dollars in cash. I don't think any of the bills were larger than a twenty, so you can imagine how this must have looked, all stacked on the table.
Dave turned to me and said, "we can head back to Los Angeles now". I turned and said to him, "I think the government can afford to buy us a nice steak dinner" We then decided to spend the night at a hotel in El Centro, CA. I was very tired and did not feel like flying another couple hours without some much needed sleep. This job just never got boring. . . . . . .