Pilots in weekend chopper crash ready to get back in the air

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In a matter of moments, a Robinson R22 helicopter went from boat-scanning and photo-taking to crashing into the inter-coastal off Bradenton Beach Saturday.

The crash is the latest in a string of unrelated chopper crashes and hard landings in the Bay Area.

Manatee County deputies said pilot Josef Bakker with BoatPix.com made a maneuver but didn't have enough altitude. The helicopter ended up crashing. He'd only been licensed to fly for three weeks. 

"We made a turn and came in, therefore we lost the power and we tried to recover from that," said co-pilot James Rahming. "Once it rolled the glass completely popped up."

As water poured in, Bakker and Rahming were able to escape

"I've learned a lot from it. I see a lot, but to be honest, I’m ready to go back in the sky," said Rahming. 

But for Tom MacKnight, the crash brought back memories that are still pretty fresh. 

MacKnight was lucky to survive a major helicopter crash off Anna Maria Island in the Gulf of Mexico. 
He and his crew were on a photo shoot for a powerboat company when their Robinson R44 helicopter crashed in January. 

"I was hoping everybody was safe," he said. "There's an inherent danger with taking boat pictures. It’s just unavoidable."

Their chopper was just 10-15 feet off the surface of the water when they crashed. MacKnight was tangled in the wreckage but was able to free himself. The pilot was critically injured but recovered. 

"You’re putting yourself in a dangerous position. It’s close to the water. You’re flying at speeds to where if something happens there’s very limited time to respond," he said. 

MacKnight knows he doesn't need the rush from aerial photography anymore. He's focusing on his band and new passions. 

"I would still go in a helicopter but what we were doing was putting ourselves in a risk that I just no longer want to do. I have a lot of friends and family, especially after the accident, let me know that they're happy I’m around," he said. 

The FAA and the NTSB are investigating both crashes.