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Two killed in news helicopter crash near Seattle Center

Investigators look through the charred wreckage of a news helicopter and two vehicles after the chopper crashed into a city street near the Space Needle, Tuesday, March 18, 2014, in Seattle. Two people were killed and another was critically injured, according to the Seattle Fire Department. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)
  • Burned cars and a charred helicopter have been removed from Broad Street. The roadway is open in one direction.
  • NTSB says it’ll have an update on the investigation Wednesday morning.

Two people were killed in a helicopter crash near Seattle Center Tuesday morning.

The helicopter was being operated by KOMO TV and was taking off from the roof of Fisher Plaza, across the street from Space Needle.

KOMO has identified the deceased as longtime photographer Bill Strothman and pilot Gary Pfitzner.

“He didn’t come up hardly 15 feet off that deck before he started to overturn and it was pretty obvious right off the gate that he was going down,” an eyewitness tells KIRO Radio.

A security officer at Fisher Plaza says they heard a boom inside the building and ran outside where they saw the helicopter tail and cars on fire.

“We stood there for a second as things were kind of popping and exploding and then a guy crawled out from underneath the door of the car,” says security guard Brandon O’Neil. “He was still on fire. His head was bleeding.”

The falling helicopter crashed into three vehicles that were engulfed in flames. Fire crews responded quickly and were able to put out the fires.

Witnesses report they saw one person jump from one of the burning vehicles in flames. Seattle Fire Department spokesman Kyle Moore reports a 38-year-old man was transported to Harborview Medical Center in critical condition with life threatening burns. The hospital says he is improving and has been upgraded to serious condition.

Harborview Medical Center spokesperson Susan Gregg says he has second- and third-degree burns on up to 20 percent of his body — on his back and arms.

Gregg says it could take up to 24 hours to determine the severity of his burns. She says doctors are working to stabilize him and restore bodily fluids.

Moore says the two dead were both on the helicopter, which was being leased and operated jointly by KOMO and KING TV.

A woman in another car was able to escape unharmed and walked to the nearby Seattle Police west precinct.

A third person walked away from a vehicle that was burned. Seattle Fire says they have found the driver of the pickup truck. He was not injured.

The Seattle Fire Department has closed off Mercer St., Denny, and Broad St. near the scene. Fifth Ave. was reopened around 10 a.m. The monorail, EMP, and Space Needle have been closed until further notice.

Seattle Mayor Ed Murray says the area will potentially be closed for three to five days while the NTSB investigates.

All that is left of the helicopter is a small piece of the tail section and some charred pieces of metal after the massive fire.

Moore says not only were cars on fire, but also jet fuel streaming down the street.

“We were able to prevent the fuel from going down into the sewer system. We were able block that and put the fire out,” says Moore.

About 10 tons of sand were dumped on the street to stop the fuel.

Investigators from the FAA and NTSB are at the scene. NTSB plans to have an update at 2 p.m. Seattle police are asking people to stay away from the area as the investigation continues.

Mayor Murray says they will wait for the NTSB to complete an investigation and review current city policies on helipads if it’s recommended.

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