A news helicopter crashed into a city street near Seattle's Space Needle on Tuesday, killing two people, critically injuring a person in a car on the ground and sending plumes of black smoke over the city during the morning rush hour.
The injured man managed to free himself from a car at the accident scene and was taken to Harborview Medical Center with burns on more than 50 percent of body, the Seattle Fire Department said.
The KOMO-TV helicopter apparently was lifting off from its rooftop when it possibly hit the side of the building and went down, hitting three vehicles on Broad Street, the station said.
The helicopter and vehicles exploded in flames, sending burning fuel into the street.
Kristopher Reynolds, a contractor working nearby, saw the crash. He said the helicopter lifted about 5 feet and looked like it was about to clear the building when it tilted. It looked like it was trying to correct itself and then took a dive downward.
"Next thing I know, it went into a ball of flames," he said.
When firefighters arrived, they found the helicopter, two cars and a pickup truck on fire, along with a huge cloud of black smoke, fire department spokesman Kyle Moore said.
"Not only were the cars on fire, the fuel running down the street was on fire," he told reporters at the scene.
Firefighters stopped the burning fuel from entering the sewer.
The two dead at the scene remained in the copter wreckage until investigators from the Federal Aviation Administration and National Transportation Safety Board arrived, Moore said.
A woman from one of the burned cars went to a police station and talked to officers. The man from the pickup truck walked off. Fire investigators want to talk to him, Moore said.
An hour after the crash, firefighters had put out the fires and were cleaning up the spilled fuel, which left a strong smell in the area.
Only the tail of the helicopter could be identified among the burned metal on the street next to the Seattle Center. The chopper also was used by KING-TV television in an agreement with KOMO, according to CBS affiliate KIRO.
The crash site also was near the EMP Museum, the music and culture museum created by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen. The Seattle Center is popular with tourists and locals, and is the site of many music and cultural festivals and sporting activities.
Other cities have experienced helicopter crashes as TV stations rush to cover the news from above major cities.
Two news helicopters collided in midair in Phoenix in 2007 as the aircraft covered a police chase, sending fiery wreckage plummeting onto a park. Four people in the helicopters were killed.
The crash prompted changes at the stations in how they operated their helicopter crews.