EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

World/National News

March 19, 2014

Seattle news chopper crash: 'Ball of flames'

SEATTLE (AP) — A news helicopter crashed into the street and exploded into flames Tuesday near Seattle’s Space Needle, killing two 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 at the KOMO-TV station when it went down on Broad Street downtown 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.

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

KOMO identified the pilot as Gary Pfitzner. The other man killed was Bill Strothman, a former longtime KOMO photographer who was working for the helicopter leasing company.

Strothman was someone “who really knew how his pictures could tell a million words,” news anchor Dan Lewis said on the air. “He was just a true gentleman.”

“We’re going to miss you guys. And thanks so much for all that you gave to us,” Lewis said, choking up.

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 the fuel before it entered the sewer, Moore said.

An injured 38-year-old man managed to free himself from a car and was taken to Harborview Medical Center, Moore said.

The man suffered burns on his lower back and arm, covering up to 20 percent of his body, hospital spokeswoman Susan Gregg said. He was in critical condition in intensive care and likely will require surgery, she said.

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