News helicopter crashes, burns near Space Needle in Seattle; 2 dead



Posted on March 18, 2014 at 8:09 AM

Updated Tuesday, Mar 18 at 3:53 PM

SEATTLE -- A news helicopter crashed near the Space Needle in downtown Seattle Tuesday morning. Two people, both of whom were aboard the helicopter, were killed. At least one other was critically injured.

It happened at about 7:40 a.m.

KOMO, the television station for which the helicopter was working, says the copter was apparently lifting off from its rooftop Tuesday morning when it possibly hit the side of the building and went down, hitting several vehicles on Broad Street.

Kristopher Reynolds, a contractor working nearby, saw the crash. He said the helicopter lifted about 5 feet and looked like it was about to clear the building when it tilted. It looked like it was trying to correct itself and then took a dive downward.

Witnesses reported seeing the helicopter spin once or twice.

"We heard the chopper swirling down to the ground," KOMO anchor and reporter Kelly Koopmans tweeted. "Rushed out to see the unbelievable, our @komonews chopper crashing into at least 2 cars."

According to Seattle TV stations KOMO and KING 5, one man was seen running from one of the cars, his sleeve on fire. That 37-year-old man reportedly suffered burns to more than half of his body. He was taken to a local hospital and at last check, he was in critical condition.

Leaking fuel fed the intense fire, which sent s thick plume of black smoke into the air. That burning fuel was flowing down the street. It took firefighters about 30 minutes to extinguish the flames.

While the helicopter appeared in a photo to be relatively intact on the ground, the subsequent fire obliterated it. Only its tail section was recognizable amid the wreckage littering the street.

Rich Marriott, a meteorologist for KING, said weather did not appear to have contributed to the crash -- visibility was clear and winds were not gusty, he said

The chopper was a Eurocopter AS350 manufactured in 2003. It reportedly is not KOMO's usual aircraft, which is operated in partnership with KING 5, 3TV's former sister station, and managed by Illinois-based Helicopters Inc., also known as Heli Inc. The registered owner of the crashed helicopter is Helicopters Inc.

The crash happened about two hours before the Space Needle's regular opening time, but the area was still busy with morning commuters heading to work.

The FAA and the NTSB are investigating the crash. In the past, the NTSB, which is taking the lead, has completed its preliminary reports within a couple weeks of an incident. A determination of probable cause, however, will take months, FAA spokesman Allen Kenitzer said.

Close to home

Phoenix has seen a similar situation.

On July 27, 2007, news choppers belonging to 3TV and ABC-15 collided in mid-air and went down, crashing in Steele Indian School Park. A pilot and photographer were aboard each helicopter. Scott Bowerbank and Jim Cox from 3TV and Craig Smith and Rick Krolak from KNXV were killed.

The situation was different from what happened in Seattle Tuesday. The 3TV and ABC-15 helicopters were two of five choppers in the air covering a pursuit.

A memorial in the park honors those we lost.

In the wake of the 2007 crash in Phoenix, the NTSB imposed new rules requiring the reporting role be assigned to someone other than the pilot unless they can prove the workload is manageable under all conditions.

CNN, KOMO, KING 5 and The Associated Press contributed to this report.