Victims killed in Seattle news helicopter crash identified

SEATTLE, WASH. - A Seattle TV news station has identified both people killed when the station's helicopter crashed Tuesday morning.

According to KOMO-TV, former longtime KOMO photographer Bill Strothman  (pictured) and pilot Gary Pfitzner were killed when their helicopter crashed near Seattle's Space Needle.

Colleagues said Strothman had won 13 Emmys in his career. His son also works as a photographer at KOMO, according to the station.

In addition, a 38-year-old man in a car that the helicopter crashed into was critically injured, officials said. Hospital spokeswoman Susan Gregg said the man suffered burns on up to 20 percent of his body and likely will require surgery.

(CLICK HERE: More photos of news helicopter crash.)

The chopper was taking off from the KOMO-TV station when it went down on Broad Street and hit three vehicles, starting them on fire and spewing burning fuel down the street.

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

"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 on fire, along with a huge cloud smoke, Seattle 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.

A 38-year-old man in one of the cars managed to free himself and was taken to Harborview Medical Center in critical condition. He had burns on more than 50 percent of body, Moore said.

Hospital spokeswoman Susan Gregg said the facility received no other victims from the crash.

A woman from the other burned car went to a police station and talked to officers. The man from the pickup truck walked off. Fire investigators want to talk to him, Moore said.

The two who were killed were the only people on board the helicopter. They remained in the wreckage until investigators from the Federal Aviation Administration and National Transportation Safety Board arrived, Moore said.

An hour after the crash, firefighters had put out the flames and were cleaning up the spilled fuel, which left a strong smell in the area. Only the tail of the helicopter could be identified among the burned metal on the street next to the Seattle Center.

Workers at KOMO rushed to the window when they heard the crash. Reporters with the station were then in the position of covering the deaths of colleagues.

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

On the street, reporter Denise Whitaker said, "It is definitely a tragic scene down here. It is a difficult time for all of us this morning."

The helicopter was a Eurocopter AS350, FAA spokesman Allen Kinetzer said. It was departing from the downtown helipad when it crashed and burned under unknown circumstances, he said.

The station said the chopper might have hit the side of a building before it went down. The FAA is investigating but the NTSB is the lead agency, Kinetzer said.

Lewis said it wasn't the regular KOMO helicopter but a temporary replacement for one that's in the shop for an upgrade.

The crash site also was near the EMP Museum, the music and culture museum created by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen. The Seattle Center 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.


A news helicopter for KOMO-TV crashed outside its station near the Seattle Space Needle, killing two people.

The ABC station says the helicopter was apparently coming in for a landing on its rooftop Tuesday morning when it possibly hit the side of the building and went down, hitting several vehicles on Broad Street.

The helicopter and cars exploded in flames, killing two people and critically injuring another, the Seattle Fire Department said in a tweet. The identities of the victims have not been released.

According to KOMO-TV, witnesses reported seeing a man running from one car with his sleeve on fire. That fire was extinguished by crews at the scene.

The wreckage is about 50 yards from the base of the Space Needle, where massive flames and smoke would be seen. In addition, fuel from the wreckage caught fire and burned for a block, according to KOMO.

People in the area reported seeing a huge cloud of smoke as firefighters and police responded.


For more information, visit KOMO-TV.

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