Investigators to reassemble charred helicopter in search for cause of deadly …

helicopter crash AP 980

Investigators are moving the wreckage of a crashed TV news helicopter to a hangar in Auburn, where they’ll reassemble it in hopes of determining what caused the KOMO TV helicopter to plummet to the ground Tuesday morning.

Pilot Gary Pfitzner and photographer Bill Strothman died when the Eurocopter AS 350 fell from the sky after taking off from the roof of Fisher Plaza just across from the Space Needle.

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NTSB Deputy Regional Chief Dennis Hogenson says investigators have already begun removing wreckage from the crash site on the Seattle Center lawn and Broad Street and hope to have it all cleaned up by later Tuesday evening.

“Right now, our primary goal is to identify witnesses, identify surveillance video that may be in the area and then also get the wreckage picked up, cleaned up from this location and moved to a hanger facility in Auburn where it’s a little more controlled.”

Witnesses reported hearing “an unusual noise” coming from the helicopter as it took off, and then the helicopter quickly began to rotate before crashing into three cars on the ground, Hogenson says.

The helicopter is owned and operated by Helicopters Inc., a St. Louis-based company that specializes in providing news gathering aircraft to television stations nationwide.

Hogenson says the company maintains maintenance records there and is shipping them to investigators in Seattle.

“It’s a very popular helicopter, it is used in the ENG (electronic news gathering) world quite often and we do see these helicopters, there are quite a few based here in the Seattle area,” Hogenson says.

The helicopter, leased by KOMO TV, had reportedly just returned from shooting video in Covington and had refueled on the roof. It was heading to Renton when it crashed.

Investigators looking at the helipad and refueling station atop Fisher Plaza did not see anything unusual and it’s far too soon to speculate on any potential causes, Hogenson says.

“We’re still interviewing witnesses, our investigative team is looking into the mechanical as well as the environment as well as the pilot issues associated with this crash.”

Hogenson says the NTSB should issue an initial report on the crash within five days, but a final report with a determination of what caused the crash could take up to a year.

Representatives from both the helicopter manufacturer and engine maker are both flying to Seattle to assist in the investigation, Hogenson says.

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