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Friday 19 September 2014

Two die in Seattle helicopter crash

Published 18/03/2014 | 15:37

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A videograb shows a news helicopter crashed outside TV studios near the space needle in Seattle (AP/KOMO-TV)

TWO people have died after a news helicopter crashed outside its station near the Seattle Space Needle in the US.

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The accident, involving a KOMO-TV aircraft, sent clouds of black smoke over the city during the morning rush hour.

The Seattle Fire Department said in addition to the fatalities a man who managed to free himself from a car at the accident scene was taken to hospital.

The 37-year-old was taken to Harborview Medical Centre in a critical condition, it said.

The TV station said the helicopter was apparently lifting off from its rooftop when it possibly hit the side of the building and went down, hitting several vehicles on Broad Street.

The aircraft and cars exploded in flames. Plumes of black smoke rose from the crash scene as rescue vehicles converged on the area.

A spokeswoman for Harborview Medical Centre, Susan Gregg, said the facility had received no other victims from the crash.

Only the tail of the helicopter could be identified among the burned metal on the street next to the Seattle Centre. Also among the wreckage were three burned-out cars.

An hour after the crash, firefighters had put out the fire and were cleaning up spilled fuel, which left a strong smell in the area.

In addition to being near the city's iconic Space Needle, the crash site is by the EMP Museum, the music and culture museum founded by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen.

The Seattle Centre is popular with tourists and locals, and is the site of many music and cultural festivals and sporting activities.

Other cities have experienced helicopter crashes as TV stations rush to cover the news from above major cities.

Two news helicopters collided in midair in Phoenix in 2007 as the aircraft covered a police chase, sending fiery wreckage plummeting onto a park. Four people in the helicopters were killed.

The crash prompted changes at the stations in how they operated their helicopter crews.

The injured man suffered burns on more than 50% of his body, the Seattle Fire Department said.

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, he said.

"Next thing I know, it went into a ball of flames," he said.

When firefighters arrived, they found the helicopter, two cars and a pickup truck ablaze, fire department spokesman Kyle Moore said.

"Not only were the cars on fire, the fuel running down the street was on fire," he said. Firefighters stopped the burning fuel from entering the sewer.

The two bodies remained in the copter wreckage until investigators from the Federal Aviation Administration and National Transportation Safety Board arrived, Mr Moore said.

A woman from one of the burned cars went to a police station and spoke to officers. The man from the pickup truck walked away but fire investigators want to talk to him, Mr Moore said.

The TV station said on the air that the pilot of the helicopter was Gary Pfitzner.

The other man killed was Bill Strothman, a former long-time KOMO photographer who was working for the helicopter leasing company, it said.

"We mourn the loss of a couple of our co-workers today," KOMO-TV anchor Dan Lewis said. "It's so difficult for us to look at this scene, of the wreckage down there."

Hospital spokeswoman Susan Gregg said the man who pulled himself out of the car suffered burns on up to 20% of his body and likely will require surgery.

Press Association

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