2 Dead in Downtown Seattle Helicopter Crash

By Paige Browning

(This is a summary of details known on the day of the crash. For more in depth updates, follow Seattle NPR affiliate KUOW)

What we know:

A pilot and an Emmy-winning news photographer died, and a Seattle man has serious injuries, from the helicopter crash by the Space Needle Tuesday morning. A helicopter contracted for KOMO-TV news crashed into the street and exploded into flames, igniting three nearby vehicles. The wreck spewed burning fuel down the street, outside the Seattle Center.

A witness said the helicopter lifted about 5 feet and was about to clear a building when it tilted. It looked like it was trying to correct itself when it took a dive downward.
A 38-year-old man in one of the cars managed to free himself and was taken to Harborview Medical Center. Hospital officials say he has been downgraded from critical to serious condition, and that 20 percent of his body is burned.

Victims identified:
KOMO News in Seattle says the victims are former KOMO photographer Bill Strothman and pilot Gary Pfitzner. Strothman and Pfitzner worked for Helicopters Inc, the company that operates news choppers. Strothman’s son Dan is now a KOMO news photographer.
Residents started leaving flowers near the Space Needle by early afternoon, Tuesday. People have reached out to share their condolences across the country, including from Governor Jay Inslee, Senator Maria Cantwell, and the University of Washington, where both the victims attended.

The National Transportation Safety Board had representatives at the scene hours after the wreck, and will head an investigation.

Seattle responds:
The city of Seattle will re-examine its policy on helicopter landing pads in response to Tuesday's fatal crash near the Space Needle. At a news conference, Seattle Mayor Ed Murray said city regulations on helicopter landing pads changed in the 1980's. At that time, the city instituted more regulations and limited where helicopters could take off and land.

Murray grew up in Seattle and said he could not remember a previous helicopter crash in the city. The mayor's office says there are about 12 helipads in Seattle.

Mayor spokesperson Jeff Reading says current rules allow choppers to be used in some commercial zones, downtown, and in industrial areas. They can only be used for public service, emergency medical care, and for news agencies.
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