KOMO-TV confirmed that its helicopter had crashed on takeoff, destroying three vehicles that burned outside its station, as horrified radio employees watched. The National Transportation Safety Board and the Federal Aviation Administration will investigate the crash.
“My heart goes out … to the individuals and all of their coworkers,” Seattle Fire Department spokesman Kyle Moore told reporters at the scene. “Television is a family business and everyone works close together.”
Moore also noted that the accident could have caused much more damage coming in the morning hours in an area that is well-trafficked. “You’ve got a helicopter flying and a lot of people going to work,” he said. “There was a huge potential of a lot more people being injured.”
Identities of the dead were not immediately available. The injured man suffered burns over 50% of his body. He was taken to Harborview Medical Center where spokeswoman Susan Gregg said he was 38 years old, a year older than initially reported.
“We mourn the loss of a couple of our coworkers today,” KOMO anchor Dan Lewis said on the air. “It’s so difficult for us to look at this scene, of the wreckage down there.”
On the street, reporter Denise Whitaker said, “It is definitely a tragic scene down here. It is a difficult time for all of us this morning.”
Moore said the helicopter appeared to crash on takeoff about 7:40 a.m., an account confirmed by witnesses including Kristopher Reynolds, who works nearby and wore a hard hat. Reynolds said he working on the 22nd floor of a nearby building on 3rd and Cedar streets.
He told the Los Angeles Times that he watches the helicopter take off most mornings. “I like to watch them take off. There is usually no problem. Today was a totally different thing.”
He described seeing the helicopter “rise four feet, then lift up, go counter-clockwise on a tilt.”
The helicopter tried to correct, he said. “It tried to come back and land,” he said, but it then went into “a side dive. The next thing I know it hit the ground and there was a ball of fire.”
Huge flames sent dense black smoke billowing everywhere, he said.
A woman who escaped from one of the three cars that were destroyed made it to West Precinct where she was interviewed by police, Moore said. A man in a pickup truck that was hit by the chopper left the scene and went to a nearby fast-food restaurant and was interviewed by authorities.
Daniel Alejandro Gonzalez, 22, a student Seattle Central Community College, said he was outside the television station on Broad Street smoking a cigarette went the helicopter went down.
“I heard the engine come on and about 15 seconds later, I heard it sound heavy,” he said. “I hear a ding, ding, ding and then I heard a crash. It landed between the red car and the gray truck. It hit the red car and caused it to shift at a 90-degree angle.”
The red car burst into flames, he said. “It took like two seconds and I was pretty scared. I ran across the street to see.”
Gonzalez said he saw the driver of the red car try to get out of the vehicle.
“It took him three or four minutes to get out of the car,” Gonzalez said. “He was hurt but he opened the door. He was struggling to get out. He took like 20 steps. He was bleeding. He was wearing a white dress shirt, it was on fire on the right side. Then the guy collapsed.”
Security personnel from the studio and first-responders aided the man, who was rushed to Harborview.