Two killed in news helicopter crash near Seattle's Space Needle

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by KING 5 and Associated Press reports

KING 5 News Seattle

Posted on March 18, 2014 at 10:10 AM

Updated Tuesday, Mar 18 at 5:37 PM

Helicopter crash

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SEATTLE -- A pilot and photographer were killed when a KOMO news helicopter crashed on top of three vehicles outside Seattle Center Tuesday morning and caught fire. A third person was taken to the hospital in critical condition.

The crash happened around 7:45 a.m. in the 400 block of Broad Street next to Fisher Plaza, which is home to KOMO.

The photographer was identified as Bill Strothman and the pilot was identified as Gary Pfitzner.

A 38-year-old man is at Harborview Medical Center in serious condition after the helicopter landed on his car. Spokeswoman Susan Gregg says he has second- and third-degree burns on up to 20 percent of his body -- on his back and arms. He also has cuts on his head and a broken rib. He's sedated in the intensive care unit and will need surgeries for the burns, but not immediately.

A woman from one of the burned cars went to a police station and talked to officers. A man from the pickup truck walked off, but was later located OK.

Bo Bain, a construction worker, said he saw the helicopter land and stay on the pad for about a minute or two.

“When he went to take back off, the sound of the helicopter changed kind of drastically and I looked and the helicopter was almost immediately pitched sideways and off balance and he kind of nose-dove over the trees and clipped the top of the trees and crashed on the other side of the street,” said Bain.

When firefighters arrived, they found the helicopter, two cars and a pickup truck on fire, along with a huge cloud of black smoke, fire department spokesman Kyle Moore said.

"Not only were the cars on fire, the fuel running down the street was on fire," he told reporters at the scene.

Firefighters stopped the burning fuel from entering the sewer.

The FAA and the NTSB arrived Monday morning to investigate the crash. Mayor Ed Murray said the scene may not be clear for 3-to-5 days. The results of the investigation may not be known for a year, according to KING 5 Aviation Specialist Glenn Farley.

The helicopter was a Eurostar AS350-B2, which was built in Grand Prairie by Airbus Helicopters, Inc. The company released this statement:

"Airbus Helicopters will work closely with the National Transportation Safety Board and the Federal Aviation Administration to assist those agencies in their investigation of this tragic accident. The company has sent its own accident investigator to the scene to work with the NTSB and FAA."

The aircraft was being operated by Helicopters Inc. through a lease agreement with KOMO News. The company is based in St. Louis and, according to its website, employs 140 full-time pilots and mechanics nationwide and flies more than 45,000 hours every year.

Strothman won 13 Emmys and worked for KOMO from 1979-2008, but left to freelance and has been employed by Helicopters, Inc. since 2008.

"It's rare that you have news photographers who are willing to put in a lot of effort to tell a great story with video and audio and Bill was one of those guys, that's why he lasted so long in this business," said KOMO reporter Matt Markovich.

Strothman's son, Dan, works at KOMO as a photographer.

KIRO 7 grounded its helicopter, pending a thorough review of flight safety, according to news director Bob Jordan’s post on Twitter.

Drivers were being told to avoid the area. The investigation was expected to last several hours. The Space Needle and Experience Music Project closed for the day out of respect for those killed.

The Associated Press contributed to this story

 

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