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Pilot walks away from copter crash

LAWRENCEVILLE - A student pilot walked away with barely a scratch after a helicopter he was flying crashed Monday during takeoff at the Gwinnett County Airport -- Briscoe Field.

The helicopter pilot, 50-year-old Sam Sayaungsa, had just been cleared for takeoff at 11:39 a.m. when something went awry.

While the Robinson R22 Bata II helicopter was just a few feet in the air, Sayaungsa lost control and it crashed onto the tarmac on its side.

There was no fire or smoke resulting from the crash, but firefighters worked to soak up several gallons of spilled fuel.

"He's fortunate that he was able to walk away," said Thomas Rutledge, spokesman for the Gwinnett County Fire Department.

Sayaungsa, a small-framed Asian man with graying hair, stood near the wreckage minutes after the crash, reflective sunglasses shielding his gaze.

"I started to leave and then (the helicopter) started to spin a little bit," said Sayaungsa, who characterized the experience as "pretty scary."

When he tried to land, the chopper rolled over.

Sayaungsa said he has been flying as a student since 2001, and it was not his first solo flight.

He was treated by paramedics for a scratch on his hand small enough for a band-aid to cover.

Blue Ridge Helicopters Inc. rented the helicopter to Sayaungsa, who is one of the company's students, said owner Ron Carroll. The company has been operating at Briscoe Field since 1990.

Carroll owns the downed aircraft, which is valued at $130,000, and leases three other helicopters.

"Nobody's hurt, so that's the main thing right now," Carroll said.

Carroll theorized the crash was probably the result of a pilot error, but the National Transportation Safety Board was called to investigate and make a final determination on what caused the incident.