Twitter feed took an abrupt shift Tuesday morning as news of a fatal helicopter
crash hit. The incident took of two of the station's own. Veteran news shooter Bill Strothman and contract chopper pilot Gary Pfitzner
were both killed when their helo, Air4, went down shortly after take-off from
Fisher Plaza, according to
“Water main break damages store parking lot,” the station tweeted at 7:17 a.m.
Pacific from @komonews. “Putin signs treaty, adds Crimea to map of Russia,” at
7:34 a.m. Everything changes at 7:55 a.m.: “News helicopter crashes, burns beside space needle.” Pic of a red car in
flames (left). Retweeted more than 1,100 times.
The cause of the crash was not immediately known, according to Baltimore-based
Sinclair Broadcast Group, the station’s owner.
KOMO’s Kelly Koopsman, @KellyKOMO4, was on the scene: “
Flames now out, [pic, right] told by a witness one person on
fire when crawled out of a cars. 1 responders working on that person.”
Within 20 minutes, the Seattle Fire Department confirms that two
individuals at the scene were dead on arrival. It’s not clear when the KOMO
staff realized that it was Strothman and Pfitzner who were killed. Koopsman tweeted shortly before 9 a.m.: “ PIO: 2 ppl inside chopper dead, 1 37 yo man
transported life threatening injuries, NTSB will investigate, don't know chain
of events yet.”
@komonews posted a scene pic
at 9:21 a.m. showing black smoke rising near the Space Needle, and what is
apparently fuel on fire running down the side of an adjacent street (below). The
newsroom briefing follows, and soon, posts about Strothman and Pfitzner.
Strothman’s 13 Emmy Awards. His son Dan, also a shooter at KOMO. How Pfitzner
loved to fly, and planned to retire soon from Boeing.
“Gary died doing what he loved,” Pfitzner’s brother told KOMO’s news team.
An outpouring of support from the Seattle market.
“Seattle is a city alive, they have lost little pieces today,” @keriRN wrote.
“We are all family in this community. What affects one affects us all,”
People begin to lay flowers Fisher Plaza after lunch.
“Just now taking a deep breath after such as surreal morning,” Koopsman wrote.
“Thank you all for your thoughts and condolences.”
A third man at the scene was injured and reported to be in serious condition
during KOMO’s live coverage of a 2 p.m. news conference called by the National
Transportation Safety Board.
The NTSB official said the call came into them at 7:40 a.m. Two investigators
arrived on the scene at 9:30. The helicopter, a 2003 Eurocopter 350, had been
out, had returned to the helipad for refueling, and was leaving again. It
started rotating counterclockwise on take-off and went down, he said, and
witnesses heard the aircraft “whining.” The agency was not prepared to speculate whether or
not the rotation was indicative of a mechanical failure.
The maintenance records for the helo are kept on the East Coast and have been
ordered, he said. He did not have safety statistics for the aircraft, an Airbus
model made in Grand Prairie, Texas. The NTSB official said the Eurocopter is
popular with electronic newsgathering teams. Preliminary report is expected in
five days, he said.
The chopper was owned by Helicopters, Inc., and shared on lease by KOMO and
Gannett-owned KING-TV, the local NBC affiliate. Helicopters, Inc., based in
Cahokia, Ill., runs Bells and three
models of the AS350 in its fleet.
Sinclair said more information would be released about the crash as it became
“We are deeply
saddened by this tragedy,” said Janene Drafs, general manager of KOMO, in the
statement released by Sinclair. “The pilot and the photographer who lost
their lives were like family to us, here at the station. We are grieving for
them, their families and the on-ground victims who were injured in this horrific
event. We have arranged for grief counselors for our employees. We also want to
thank the first responders, city officials and other in-market television
stations that reached out to offer emotional and news support during this