Two killed in news helicopter crash near the Space Needle in Seattle

A news helicopter crashed near the Space Needle in downtown Seattle on Tuesday morning, killing two people and critically injuring at least one other person.

The helicopter was identified as the KOMO News helicopter by that network, which reported that the vehicle crashed and burned upon takeoff.

Two people on board the helicopter were pronounced dead at the scene, while a 37-year-old man was taken to a hospital with life-threatening burns, according to the Seattle Fire Department. The man who was injured was in a car hit by the helicopter when it crashed, Kyle Moore, a spokesman for the fire department, said at a news conference.

The people killed in the crash were identified by KOMO News as photojournalist Bill Strothman, a former employee of KOMO employed by the helicopter leasing company, and pilot Gary Pfitzner, also employed by the helicopter company. Strothman’s son, Dan, is a photojournalist for KOMO.

After the helicopter crashed shortly after 7:30 a.m., its fuel leaked out and streaked down the street. That fuel caught on fire, creating a “line of flames” down Broad Street, Moore said.  Two other vehicles were on fire as a result of the crash, though it’s unclear so far whether they were directly hit by the helicopter, he said.

There are no indications that the helicopter hit a building, Moore said, and authorities have no idea why it crashed. But there are no suggestions that terrorism was involved, he said.

About 50 emergency vehicles responded to the crash, about equal to the full response for a major building fire, Moore said. Initial reports came in from people who thought the helicopter hit a building or hit the Space Needle, he added.

When firefighters first arrived shortly after the crash, there was a plume of black smoke so thick they couldn’t actually see the helicopter, according to Moore. All that remains of it now is a piece of the tail and the burned metal shell.

The National Transportation Safety Board and the Federal Aviation Administration will be investigating the crash. Moore warned that streets immediately around this area would remain closed through the day and into the night, possibly extending into Wednesday morning.

It could take between three and five days for the investigation to conclude and all of the streets to reopen, Seattle Mayor Ed Murray said during an afternoon news conference.

The area around Seattle Center wasn’t particularly crowded, which may have helped reduce the number of people injured in the crash, Murray said.

Starbucks is scheduled to hold its annual shareholders meeting on Wednesday at 10 a.m. at McCaw Hall, which is on the northern side of the Seattle Center campus. Zack Hutson, a spokesman for the company, said the meeting will still take place there as scheduled.

As a result of the crash and the investigation, the Seattle Monorail was shut down and several streets around the accident scene have been closed. The Space Needle was also been closed for the day. The crash occurred not far from the intersection of Fifth Avenue and Broad Street, right near the Space Needle, KeyArena and several museums:


(Google Maps)

This post will be updated as more information becomes available. First posted: 11:05 a.m. Last update: 5:38 p.m.

Mark Berman is a reporter on the National staff. He anchors Post Nation, a destination for breaking news and developing stories from around the country.
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Mark Berman | March 18