SEATTLE (AP) — A Seattle news helicopter crash that killed two men was likely caused when the chopper lost control because of a loss of hydraulic boost to the tail rotor and main rotor controls, federal investigators said Wednesday.
But the National Transportation Safety Board said it couldn't determine the reason for that loss because of fire damage to hydraulic system components and the lack of a flight recording device.
The helicopter crashed March 18, 2014 as it lifted off the helipad on the roof of KOMO News headquarters and hit two cars before bursting into flames near the Seattle's Space Needle.
Pilot Gary Pfitzner, 59, and former KOMO-TV news photographer Bill Strothman, 62, were killed in the fiery crash. Richard Newman, 38, was seriously burned when the helicopter crashed on his car.
The helicopter had landed at the helipad that morning to refuel before departing for the Renton Municipal Airport.
Video footage showed the helicopter lifted off and simultaneously began to rotate left, consistent with a loss of tail rotor control, the NTSB said. The helicopter rotated completely while climbing and as it spun, the nose pitched down and banked to the right, consistent with a loss of main rotor control, the panel said. The helicopter crashed onto the street.
"No determination could be made regarding the pilot's actions during performance of the preflight hydraulic checks or regarding the hydraulic system configuration when the helicopter became airborne," the panel concluded.
The panel said it would have been able to reconstruct the events leading up to the pilot losing control, if a recorder system had captured audio, images or other data.