SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

Nation/World

March 19, 2014

Investigators comb scene of deadly chopper crash

SEATTLE — A news helicopter crashed into a street and burst into flames yesterday near Seattle’s Space Needle, killing both people on board, badly injuring a man in a car and sending plumes of black smoke over the city during the morning commute.

The chopper was taking off from a helipad on KOMO-TV’s roof when it went down at a downtown intersection and hit three vehicles, starting them on fire and spewing burning fuel down the street.

Kristopher Reynolds, a contractor working nearby, said he saw the helicopter lift about 5 feet off the low-rise building before it started to tilt. The chopper looked like it was trying to correct itself when it took a dive.

“Next thing I know, it went into a ball of flames,” Reynolds said.

Witnesses also reported hearing unusual noises coming from the helicopter as it took off after refueling, said Dennis Hogenson, deputy regional chief with the National Transportation Safety Board in Seattle. They said the aircraft then rotated before it crashed near the Seattle Center campus, which is home to the Space Needle, restaurants and performing arts centers.

Mayor Ed Murray noted the normally bustling Seattle Center was relatively quiet at the time. Had it been a busier day, “this would have been a much larger tragedy,” he said.

Murray added that the city will review its policies about permitting helicopter pads in response to the crash.

Investigators were working to document the scene and clear the wreckage and will examine all possibilities as they determine what caused the crash, Hogenson said. A preliminary analysis is expected in five days, followed by a fuller report with a probable cause in up to a year.

Only the helicopter’s blue tail end could be identified among the wreckage strewn across the street.

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