Seattle looks at helipad rules after deadly crash

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In this photo provided by KOMO-TV, a car burns at the scene of a helicopter crash outside the KOMO-TV studios near the space needle in Seattle on Tuesday, March 18, 2014. The station says the helicopter was apparently coming in for a landing on its rooftop Tuesday morning when it possibly hit the side of the building and went down, hitting several vehicles on Broad Street. (AP Photo/KOMO-TV, Kelly Koopmans) MANDATORY CREDIT: KOMO-TV

In this photo provided by KOMO-TV, a car burns at the scene of a helicopter crash outside the KOMO-TV studios near the space needle in Seattle on Tuesday, March 18, 2014. The station says the helicopter was apparently coming in for a landing on its rooftop Tuesday morning when it possibly hit the side of the building and went down, hitting several vehicles on Broad Street. (AP Photo/KOMO-TV, Kelly Koopmans) MANDATORY CREDIT: KOMO-TV

In this photo provided by KIRO- TV, smoke rises at the scene of a helicopter crash outside the KOMO-TV studios near the space needle in Seattle on Tuesday, March 18, 2014. The station says the helicopter was apparently coming in for a landing on its rooftop Tuesday morning when it possibly hit the side of the building and went down, hitting several vehicles on Broad Street. (AP Photo/KIRO-TV)

Emergency personnel wheel away one of two bodies from the aftermath of a news helicopter crash Tuesday, March 18, 2014, in Seattle, Wash. A KOMO-TV helicopter crashed into a city street near Seattle’s Space Needle, killing two people and critically injuring a person in a car on the ground. (AP Photo/seattlepi.com, Jordan Stead) MAGS OUT; NO SALES; SEATTLE TIMES OUT; MANDATORY CREDIT; TV OUT

KOMO-TV news producer Justin Paulsen, left, and other newsroom employees work on a story about the crash of one of their helicopters just outside the newsroom earlier Tuesday, March 18, 2014, in Seattle. The news helicopter crashed into the street and exploded into flames near Seattle’s Space Needle, killing two people on board, badly injuring a man in a car and sending plumes of black smoke over the city during the morning commute. The chopper was taking off from a helipad at the KOMO-TV station when it went down on Broad Street downtown and hit three vehicles, starting them on fire and spewing burning fuel down the street. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

Cindy Quiring, left, and her husband Roger place flowers at a memorial outside Fisher Plaza, home to KOMO-TV, following a helicopter crash outside the building earlier Tuesday, March 18, 2014, in Seattle. The news helicopter crashed into a city street near Seattle’s Space Needle, killing two people and critically injuring a person in a car on the ground. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

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SEATTLE (AP) — The news helicopter had just stopped at a helipad to refuel on its way to another assignment when it crashed and burst into flames yards from the Space Needle in the heart of Seattle, killing the two men on board and seriously injuring a third man who was on fire when he escaped from his car.

It may be months before federal investigators know what caused the chopper to plummet at a busy intersection, setting three vehicles ablaze and spewing burning fuel down the street during the Tuesday morning commute.

The KOMO-TV flight was one of many helicopter flights that take off and land in Seattle’s downtown. Mayor Ed Murray said officials would review rules for helicopter pads in the city to determine if any changes need to be made.

Witnesses reported hearing unusual noises coming from the aircraft as it lifted off after refueling, said Dennis Hogenson, deputy regional chief of the Western Pacific Region for the National Transportation Safety Board.

They also said the aircraft rotated counterclockwise before it crashed near the Seattle Center campus, which is home to the Space Needle, restaurants and performing arts centers.

Bo Bain, an excavation foreman at a nearby construction project, watched the helicopter land as usual, one of many flights he has watched come and go in recent months. But he said something sounded different when the aircraft left the helipad Tuesday morning.

“It pitched sideways. It was off balance, and you could tell right away something wasn’t right,” Bain said. “The helicopter was struggling to stay up. It spun around, hit the top of the tree and landed on the street.”

Seconds later, he said: “It was just a fireball. The whole thing burst into flames. I saw people running from their cars.”

Hogenson said a preliminary report on the crash is expected in five days, followed by a fuller report with a probable cause in up to a year.

KOMO identified the pilot as Gary Pfitzner, of Issaquah. The other man killed in the crash was Bill Strothman, a former longtime KOMO photographer. Both men were working for Cahokia, Ill.-based Helicopters Inc., which owned the Eurocopter AS350 helicopter. The aircraft was leased jointly by KOMO and KING-TV.

The helicopter was a temporary replacement for one that is in the shop for an upgrade, KOMO reported.

Firefighters who arrived at the scene before 8 a.m. found a “huge black cloud of smoke” and two cars and a pickup truck engulfed in flames, Seattle Fire Department spokesman Kyle Moore said.

Fuel running down the street also was on fire, and crews worked to stop it before it entered the sewer.

An injured man managed to free himself from a burning car and was taken to Harborview Medical Center, Moore said. The man was on fire and KOMO reported that one of its building security guards, Brian Post, ran toward the fire to help.

“I used my hand at first and then his jacket to get the flames out,” Post, a former police officer, told the station.

Richard Newman, 38, suffered burns on his lower back and arm, covering as much as 20 percent of his body, hospital spokeswoman Susan Gregg said. He was in serious condition in

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