Helicopter pilot charged after landing in protected wildlife area in Florida

Ryan Levi / X

A helicopter pilot in Florida was charged for landing on top of a protected birds nest site at Egmont Key State Park.

The Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) charged Ernesto Cordero, 53, for harassing thousands of birds gathered for breeding season when he landed the Robinson R-44 helicopter he was piloting at the south tip of Egmont Key on May 12, 2024.

Cordero defended his decision, saying he smelled leaking fuel inside the helicopter and landing in the protected site was better than risking a crash.

However, a witness told officials they saw a female passenger get out of the helicopter and take a few photos before hopping back on and taking off.

Cordero claimed that he could check the fuel leak issue without getting out of the helicopter, adding that he did not need to radio for emergency help.

A video clip of the incident was taken and uploaded on various social media platforms, including X (formerly Twitter), where the helicopter can be seen landing on the protected site, where the blade rotors stirred up sand and hundreds of birds that frantically flew about.

A report by The Tampa Bay Times stated that Cordero’s 101-mile journey began at Albert Whitted Airport (SPG) in St. Petersburg, continued along the Gulf Coast over Fort De Soto Park and then over the southern tip of Egmont Key before eventually landing in Punta Gorda Airport (PGD) in Southwest Florida.

According to flight tracking data company FlightAware, the registered owner of the helicopter tail number N220EC is Bradenton-based landscaping company CC Landscaping Warehouse Plus. Based on records from the Florida Division of Corporations, Cordero is listed as the owner for the company.

FWC said that Cordero apologized for the incident but was charged with a misdemeanor for harming the eggs of a protected species.

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