NTSB: Number of scenarios under review for chopper crash

NTSB: Number of scenarios under review for chopper crash »Play Video
An investigator looks over the aftermath of a news helicopter crash Tuesday, March 18, 2014, in Seattle, Wash. (AP Photo/seattlepi.com, Jordan Stead)
SEATTLE - Federal investigators are reviewing a number of scenarios to determine what caused a news helicopter to crash into the pavement near Seattle's Space Needle, killing two men on board and seriously burning a third on the ground.

"I'm confident that we're going to figure this out," said Dennis Hogenson, with the National Safety Transportation Board, said at a news conference Wednesday afternoon.

Hogenson says they're looking at all possibilities, including what role, if any, construction cranes in the area played.

A crane operator was in radio contact with the pilot on a prior landing on the rooftop helipad, though there's no substantial evidence to link the cranes with the crash, Hogenson said.

Investigators also are poring over pilot, maintenance and company records, and they will recreate the crash scene to look for anomalies, he said. Wreckage from the helicopter has been moved to a secured hangar in Auburn, about 30 miles south of Seattle, where the team will lay out the pieces to determine what parts potentially are missing.

A large portion of the helicopter, which was built in 2003, was made of composite material that burned, so "a lot of those parts and pieces are simply gone," Hogenson said.

It may be months before federal investigators know what caused the KOMO-TV news chopper to hit the pavement and burst into flames Tuesday, setting three vehicles ablaze and spewing burning fuel down the street.

While a preliminary report could be released as early as this week, Hogenson said a final report could take up to a year.

The investigation team includes representatives from Airbus Helicopters, engine manufacturer Turbomeca, as well as the helicopter operator.

The helicopter wasn't equipped with a cockpit voice recorder or flight data recorder, which aren't required.

Witnesses reported hearing unusual noises coming from the aircraft as it lifted off from the helipad on top of Fisher Plaza after refueling, Hogenson said Tuesday. Witnesses also reported seeing the helicopter rotate before it crashed.

"It pitched sideways. It was off balance, and you could tell right away something wasn't right," said Bo Bain, an excavation foreman at a nearby construction project who watched the aircraft take off. "The helicopter was struggling to stay up. It spun around, hit the top of the tree and landed on the street."

Seconds later, "It was just a fireball. The whole thing burst into flames," he said.


Former KOMO photographer Bill Strothman (left) and pilot Gary Pfitzner (right)
Mourners on Wednesday left flowers at the crash site to remember former KOMO veteran photographer Bill Strothman and pilot Gary Pfitzner. Both men were working for Helicopters Inc., which owned the Eurocopter AS350 helicopter. The aircraft was leased jointly by KOMO and KING-TV.

Mark Pfitzner told KOMO that his brother, Gary, put himself through flight school, loved to fly and "tried to do his best reporting for people."

News anchor and reporter Molly Shen remembered Strothman as "one of the best storytellers to have ever graced the halls of KOMO."

Richard Newman, 38, who suffered serious burns when the helicopter crashed on his car, was breathing on his own Wednesday, said Susan Gregg, a spokeswoman with Harborview Medical Center. The Seattle man remained in serious condition.

A man and a woman who were in vehicles that were struck by the helicopter were uninjured.

Other cities have experienced helicopter crashes as TV stations rush to cover the news from above major cities.

The last helicopter crash in Seattle was in November 1999, when a KIRO-TV news helicopter collided in midair with another helicopter over Lake Union. There were only minor injuries, after both pilots landed safely at nearby helipads, according to an NTSB report.

Current rules in Seattle allow helipads to be used downtown and in some commercial zones and industrial areas. They can be used only for public service, emergency medical care and for news agencies, mayor's office spokesman Jeff Reading said.

Two news helicopters collided in midair in Phoenix in 2007 as the aircraft covered a police chase, sending fiery wreckage plummeting onto a park. Four people in the helicopters were killed. The crash prompted changes at the stations in how they operated their helicopter crews.

Funeral arrangements for pilot Gary Pfitzner

The family of Gary Pfitzner will be holding a memorial for Gary this Saturday at noon at St. Joseph's Catholic Church at 220 Mountain Park Blvd. in Issaquah and the public is invited.

The family asks that in lieu of flowers, they would like contributions made in Gary’s name to the Moyer Foundation for kids who are in need or are suffering from loss.