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KOMO News crash: helipad rules reviewed

March 19, 2014, Seattle, Wa. - It may be months before federal investigators know what caused a news chopper to plummet at a busy Seattle intersection, killing two people and setting three vehicles ablaze during the Tuesday morning commute.


March 19, 2014
By The Associated Press

The news helicopter had just stopped at a helipad to refuel on its way
to another assignment when it crashed and burst into flames yards from
the Space Needle in the heart of Seattle, killing the two men on board
and seriously injuring a third man who was on fire when he escaped from
his car.

The
KOMO-TV flight was one of many helicopter
flights that take off and land in Seattle's downtown. Mayor Ed Murray
said officials would review rules for helicopter pads in the city to
determine if any changes need to be made.

Witnesses reported hearing unusual noises coming from the aircraft as
it lifted off after refuelling, said Dennis Hogenson, deputy regional
chief of the Western Pacific Region for the National Transportation
Safety Board.

They also said the aircraft rotated counterclockwise before it
crashed near the Seattle Centre campus, which is home to the Space
Needle, restaurants and performing arts centers.

Bo Bain, an excavation foreman at a nearby construction project,
watched the helicopter land as usual, one of many flights he has watched
come and go in recent months. But he said something sounded different
when the aircraft left the helipad Tuesday morning.

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"It pitched sideways. It was off balance, and you could tell right
away something wasn't right," Bain said. "The helicopter was struggling
to stay up. It spun around, hit the top of the tree and landed on the
street."

Seconds later, he said: "It was just a fireball. The whole thing burst into flames. I saw people running from their cars."

Hogenson said a preliminary report on the crash is expected in five
days, followed by a fuller report with a probable cause in up to a year.

KOMO identified the pilot as Gary Pfitzner, of Issaquah. The other
man killed in the crash was Bill Strothman, a former longtime KOMO
photographer. Both men were working for Cahokia, Ill.-based Helicopters
Inc., which owned the Eurocopter AS350 helicopter. The aircraft was
leased jointly by KOMO and KING-TV.

The helicopter was a temporary replacement for one that is in the shop for an upgrade, KOMO reported.

Firefighters who arrived at the scene before 8 a.m. found a "huge
black cloud of smoke" and two cars and a pickup truck engulfed in
flames, Seattle Fire Department spokesman Kyle Moore said.

Fuel running down the street also was on fire, and crews worked to stop it before it entered the sewer.

An injured man managed to free himself from a burning car and was
taken to Harborview Medical Centre, Moore said. The man was on fire and
KOMO reported that one of its building security guards, Brian Post, ran
toward the fire to help.

"I used my hand at first and then his jacket to get the flames out," Post, a former police officer, told the station.

Richard Newman, 38, suffered burns on his lower back and arm,
covering as much as 20 per cent of his body, hospital spokeswoman Susan
Gregg said. He was in serious condition in the intensive care unit and
likely will require surgery, she said Tuesday.

Two others who were in vehicles that were struck by the helicopter were uninjured.

KOMO is a block from the Space Needle and is surrounded by high-rise
office and apartment buildings. Workers at the station rushed to the
window when they heard the crash. KOMO reporters were then in the
position of covering their colleagues' deaths.

One of them, Denise Whitaker, said on the street shortly after the crash: "It is a difficult time for all of us this morning."

News anchor Dan Lewis described Strothman as someone "who really knew how his pictures could tell a million words."

"He was just a true gentleman," Lewis said on the air. "We're going to miss you guys."

The Strothman family said in a statement that the former KOMO
photographer was a "great man, a kind soul, a devoted husband, a loving
father and brother."

Mark Pfitzner said in a statement that his brother Gary loved
adventure, to travel and to fly. He was the oldest of seven kids and
"took great care of his brothers and sister."


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