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Originally published March 21, 2014 at 9:58 PM | Page modified March 22, 2014 at 5:56 PM

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NTSB report: Crashed news helicopter rotated before tipping, crashing

National Transportation Safety Board’s preliminary report says the helicopter began rotating counterclockwise during takeoff, making a full 360-degree revolution as it rose slightly before it pitched forward in a “nose-low attitude.”


Seattle Times staff reporters

Where the helicopter crashed

The Seattle Times

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The National Transportation Safety Board has made a preliminary review of three security-camera recordings showing the moments before the KOMO-TV helicopter crashed near the intersection of Fourth Avenue and Broad Street in Seattle on Tuesday morning.

The report says the helicopter began rotating counterclockwise during its takeoff sequence, making a full 360-degree revolution as it rose slightly before it pitched forward in a “nose-low attitude.” None of the surveillance videos shows the actual crash, according to the report.

The surveillance footage is consistent with reports given by many of the people who were near the accident site, the report says. Witnesses said they saw the helicopter rise from the helipad, then pitch forward before it “descended into an occupied vehicle and terrain,” the report says.

The preliminary report does not give a definitive cause and says the material could contain errors that will be corrected in the final report. That likely won’t be ready for quite some time.

The helicopter seemed nearly level as it lifted off before it pitched forward, the report says, and it continued to rotate as it fell.

Dennis Hogenson, acting deputy chief of the agency’s Western Pacific Region, said the video was significant because it cleared up some inconsistencies among statements from nearly 100 witnesses.

“We got a lot of witness accounts,” Hogenson said. “But now (with the video), we have hard evidence of what happened.”

The agency obtained video — showing the crash from three angles — with the help of the Seattle Police Department, Hogenson said. But he noted that the cameras that caught the crash were far away. The helicopter disappeared from the cameras’ fields of view as it descended, then came to rest on its right side, according to the preliminary report.

“These are not high-quality cameras, or maybe they’re high quality, but they’re not meant for this purpose,” Hogenson said. “The helicopter is in the background.”

Many are hoping the preliminary report will start to provide answers about the crash, which killed both of the helicopter’s occupants, pilot Gary Pfitzner, 59; and photojournalist Bill Strothman, 62, and critically injured the driver of a car struck by the chopper.

That driver, Richard Newman, a 38-year-old clinical-trials project manager at Genelex, had the first of multiple surgeries Friday, said Harborview Medical Center spokeswoman Susan Gregg. Newman remains in serious condition in the intensive-care unit.

The helicopter’s main structural components were found in the immediate area, according to the report. Debris was found within a 340-foot radius of the main wreckage.

Hogenson said investigators are studying a range of potential factors, including weather conditions, the helicopter’s components and maintenance records, and what the pilot was doing in the hours before the crash.

Some witnesses reported an unusual sound before the helicopter crashed onto Broad Street, just in front of the Space Needle, around 7:40 a.m. Tuesday.

Brian M. Rosenthal: 206-464-3195 or brosenthal@seattletimes.com. On Twitter @brianmrosenthal. Paige Cornwell: 206-464-2530 or pcornwell@seattletimes.com.



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