By Brian M. Rosenthal, Steve Miletich and Jack Broom, The Seattle Times
SEATTLE — At least two people were killed Tuesday morning when a KOMO-TV helicopter crashed onto a street just south of the Space Needle.
The two who died were aboard the helicopter, according to the Seattle Fire Department.
The helicopter, which apparently was taking off around 7:40 a.m., dropped to the ground, landing on at least one car that burst into flames. A second car and a pickup were on fire when firefighters arrived, but it isn’t clear if they had been hit by the helicopter or ignited by the fuel, according to the Fire Department.
The driver of the car that was hit, a 37-year-old man, was taken in critical condition to Harborview Medical Center. He suffered burns over 50 percent of his body, department spokesman Kyle Moore said.
A woman in the second car walked away from the crash scene but later appeared at the Police Department’s West Precinct. The man in the pickup left the area before anyone could talk with him, Moore said. Authorities are looking for him.
Chris McColgan, 26, who lives a couple blocks west of the crash, said he was driving west on Broad Street when he stopped at the light on John Street, just two cars ahead of where the helicopter came down.
“It just blew up instantly,” said McColgan, who saw the helicopter fall from the helipad atop the KOMO building. “The crazy thing is, the movies get it exactly right. It’s that big … It felt like a movie. It still feels like a movie.”
Eyewitnesses told KOMO Radio that fuel from the crashed helicopter ran down Broad Street, causing at least one person to jump out of her car and flee the scene. The fuel burst into flame, sending thick clouds of black smoke into the air near the Space Needle.
The National Transportation Safety Board is on the scene conducting the investigation of the crash, according to Seattle police.
KOMO staff members reported that the fireball from the crashed copter could be seen from their newsroom. They said that an hour after the crash, staff members remained dazed, some sitting at their desks with their heads in their hands.
“It’s sad, it’s just so sad,” said one man who works near the crash site but didn’t want to be identified.
Looking west from the corner of Fifth Avenue and Broad Street he could see a river of water and foam and beyond that the burned-out wreckage of a car, truck and debris spread across the street.
Kelly Koopmans, reporter-anchor for KOMO-TV, said she was sitting at her desk, about 75 yards from the crash scene and first heard a loud rumble that she thought might be coming from a nearby construction site.
But the noise continued increasing. “It was so loud and so close, you had to know something had gone terribly, terribly wrong,” she said.
Rushing to the window, she saw an explosion of billowing flames and a thick plume of black smoke streaming up alongside the Space Needle.
According to a news report, the helicopter was a temporary chopper, used jointly with KING-TV in a shared arrangement.
No identities were available of those killed in the crash.
Photo: Bgautrea via Flickr