Awful, awful news this morn­ing:

Two peo­ple were killed and one was crit­i­cal­ly injured when the KOMO News heli­copter crashed and burst into flames Tues­day morn­ing on Broad Street only yards away from the Space Needle.

Emer­gency per­son­nel imme­di­ate­ly rushed to the scene as thick smoke poured over the city at the height of the morn­ing commute.

Two cars and a pick­up truck on Broad Street were struck in the crash. Occu­pants of two vehi­cles were able to escape with­out injury, but the dri­ver of a third vehi­cle was bad­ly burned.

Wit­ness­es said the thir­ty-eight-year-old Seat­tle man could be seen run­ning from from his car with his cloth­ing on fire, and he was extin­guished by offi­cers at the scene. The man suf­fered burns on his low­er back and arm, cov­er­ing up to twen­ty per­cent of his body, Har­borview hos­pi­tal spokes­woman Susan Gregg said. He was orig­i­nal­ly list­ed in crit­i­cal con­di­tion but was upgrad­ed to seri­ous con­di­tion Tues­day after­noon, Gregg said, adding the the man will even­tu­al­ly need surgery for his burns but not immediately.

Inside of the chop­per were pilot Gary Pfitzn­er and vet­er­an KOMO pho­tog­ra­ph­er Bill Stroth­man, both of whom worked for Sin­clair Media Seat­tle as contractors.

(Sin­clair pur­chased Seat­tle-based Fish­er Com­mu­ni­ca­tions last year in a megadeal that saw the once inde­pen­dent Pacif­ic North­west media group swal­lowed up by a nation­al con­glom­er­ate with right wing own­er­ship. It now owns KOMO, KATU, and a num­ber of oth­er radio and tele­vi­sion sta­tions in the region).

The heli­copter, a tem­po­rary replace­ment for the actu­al Air 4 (which is in the shop for upgrades), had been tak­ing off from the roof of Fish­er Plaza around twen­ty min­utes before eight o’clock when some­thing went ter­ri­bly wrong. Appar­ent­ly full of fuel, it crashed and then burned after hit­ting the ground, cre­at­ing a night­mar­ish scene adja­cent to the Space Nee­dle and Fish­er Plaza that hor­ri­fied bystanders.

Fire­fight­ers rushed to Broad to put out the fire and tend to the injured on the ground. Sad­ly, Pfitzn­er and Stroth­man were dead.

KOMO sud­den­ly found itself in the posi­tion of report­ing on the death of two of its own as the lead sto­ry for the morn­ing, yards from its own newsroom.

And report it did, though crew and reporters alike under­stand­ably strug­gled to keep their com­po­sure. Anchor Dan Lewis, enroute to the White House to talk to Pres­i­dent Oba­ma, rushed back to Fish­er Plaza to be with the KOMO family.

Accord­ing to eye­wit­ness Chris McOl­gan, who had a front-row seat to the dis­as­ter from his own vehi­cle: “It just blew up instant­ly… Noth­ing could have been done.”

The heli­copter, which the Fed­er­al Avi­a­tion Admin­is­tra­tion con­firmed to be a Euro­copter AS350, is owned by Heli­copters, Inc. of St. Louis, Mis­souri. The com­pa­ny says on its web­site that it “spe­cial­izes in the design/build and leas­ing of news gath­er­ing heli­copters for tele­vi­sion and radio sta­tions nationwide.”

The Euro­copter AS350 is a sin­gle-engine heli­copter man­u­fac­tured by Air­bus in France. It was designed by Aérospa­tiale, which lat­er merged with Daim­ler-Benz Aero­space AG to cre­ate the Euro­copter Group in 1992.

The merg­er of Euro­copter Group’s own­ers made the com­pa­ny a divi­sion of Air­bus, and it was renamed Air­bus Heli­copters in 2000.

The AS350 is con­sid­ered a ver­sa­tile chop­per; it has been in pro­duc­tion since the 1970s. In 2005, an AS350 was land­ed on Mount Ever­est by a test pilot. It is used by the Los Ange­les Police Depart­ment and the Unit­ed States Bor­der Patrol.

The Nation­al Trans­porta­tion Safe­ty Board said in a tweet that it was inves­ti­gat­ing the inci­dent. Air crash­es always inves­ti­gat­ed by the NTSB, as are rail­way acci­dents and major high­way mishaps like the Skag­it Riv­er Bridge col­lapse. NTSB per­son­nel are already at the crash site, work­ing with first responders.

KIRO TV said in a state­ment that it was ground­ing its own heli­copter, Chop­per 7, out of an abun­dance of cau­tion, until the air­craft can be inspected.

The Space Nee­dle, Expe­ri­ence Music Project, Chi­hu­ly Gar­den and Glass and Seat­tle Mono­rail are closed and will remain closed for the rest of the day. The Mono­rail may be out of ser­vice for the rest of the week while author­i­ties inves­ti­gate the tragedy.

Local polit­i­cal lead­ers offered their sym­pa­thies to KOMO.

“I just returned from Fish­er Plaza where, as you know, a KOMO Air‑4 news heli­copter crashed at take­off this morn­ing,” said Seat­tle May­or Ed Mur­ray at a news con­fer­ence at City Hall. “Two indi­vid­u­als, both KOMO employ­ees, were trag­i­cal­ly killed. In times like this, we’re remind­ed that the media — like many of us — are also pub­lic servants.”

“I met with the fam­i­ly of one of those who is deceased as well as with many of their cowork­ers. As you can imag­ine, they are in a state of shock, and they are dev­as­tat­ed. On behalf of Seat­tle, I want to express my deep­est con­do­lence to the fam­i­lies of both the vic­tims and to all their col­leagues at KOMO. Our thoughts and prayers are with you dur­ing this incred­i­bly dif­fi­cult moment. Our thoughts are also with those who have been injured in the situation.”

“This morn­ing two mem­bers of the KOMO news fam­i­ly were killed in a trag­ic crash,” said Gov­er­nor Inslee. “Tru­di and I send our con­do­lences to their fam­i­lies and to the men and women at KOMO who, despite the per­son­al impacts of this tragedy, have been report­ing on this loss with impres­sive pro­fes­sion­al­ism and grace. Our hearts go out to you. I know the peo­ple of Seat­tle – and the peo­ple of Wash­ing­ton – are keep­ing you in their thoughts. We also hope for the best for those injured.”

“My thoughts and prayers go out to the fam­i­lies of Bill Stroth­man and Gary Pfitzn­er and to the entire KOMO fam­i­ly,” said Sen­a­tor Maria Cantwell. “Today’s tragedy is an unimag­in­able loss for Seattle’s jour­nal­ism com­mu­ni­ty. Today, we are all thank­ful for the jour­nal­ists who face risks every day to report the news in our communities.

“I join Wash­ing­to­ni­ans in offer­ing our deep­est con­do­lences to the fam­i­lies of the vic­tims of this hor­rif­ic acci­dent, and pray­ing for the safe recov­ery of those injured. And we thank Seat­tle first respon­ders and the Nation­al Trans­porta­tion Safe­ty Board for their quick response to this trag­ic incident.”

About the author

Andrew Villeneuve is the founder and executive director of the Northwest Progressive Institute, as well as the founder of NPI's sibling, the Northwest Progressive Foundation. He has worked to advance progressive causes for over two decades as a strategist, speaker, author, and organizer. Andrew is also a cybersecurity expert, a veteran facilitator, a delegate to the Washington State Democratic Central Committee, and a member of the Climate Reality Leadership Corps.

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