SEATTLE (AP) — A news helicopter crashed into a street near Seattle's iconic Space Needle on Tuesday, exploding and killing two people, critically injuring a person in a car on the ground and sending plumes of black smoke over the city during morning rush hour.
The injured man freed himself from a car at the accident scene and was taken to a hospital with burns, the Seattle Fire Department said.
The KOMO-TV helicopter apparently was lifting off from its rooftop when it possibly hit the side of the building and went down, hitting three vehicles on the street, the station said.
Kristopher Reynolds, a contractor working nearby, said the helicopter lifted about 5 feet (1.5 meters) 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.
"Next thing I know, it went into a ball of flames," he said.
When firefighters arrived, they found the helicopter and the vehicles on fire, 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. Firefighters stopped the burning fuel from entering the sewer.
The cause of the wreck was not yet known. Mayor Ed Murray said the crash site could be closed for three to five days while officials with the NTSB and Federal Aviation Administration probe what happened.
The two who were killed were the only people on board the helicopter.
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.
"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."
The man who freed himself from a car 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.
Two others who were in cars that were struck by the helicopter were uninjured.
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