A news helicopter crashed in downtown Seattle Tuesday morning, killing two aboard and injuring one on the ground, officials said.
The chopper, operated by local television network KOMO, an ABC affiliate, and also used by KING5, an NBC affiliate, went down near Seattle's Space Needle at about 7:40 a.m. PT. Three vehicles were set ablaze after the crash, sending large plumes of smoke into the air.
Officials didn't know what caused the crash.
Paramedics took a 37-year-old man, who managed to pull himself out of one of the burning cars, to Harborview Medical Center in critical condition. The drivers in the other two vehicles weren't seriously injured, police said.
Daniel Alejandro Gonzalez, a college student, was outside smoking a cigarette when he saw the helicopter crash between a gray truck and a red car. The driver of the red car was the one who climbed out, he said, but it took him several minutes.
"He was struggling really bad and his shirt was burned a little bit," he said.
The injured survivor had burns on 40 to 50 percent of his body, KING5 reported.
Three people were on board the helicopter, which was taking off from a downtown helipad when it crashed and burned, according to the FAA. The condition of the third person was not immediately known.
Sources told former NTSB investigator Greg Feith that the heliport was on a five-story office building, and that because there was a lot of construction equipment in the area, the helicopter may have struck something. Feith said investigators will likely look into why the helipad was used, given the construction equipment and long cables nearby.
Rodney Davis, of Seattle, was outside the nearby Seattle Center Armory when he heard the impact.
"It sounded like it hit something right before [the crash]," he said.
The crash happened in the 400 block of Broad Street, next to Fisher Plaza, where KOMO is based. The weather was cloudy with winds of about 7 mph at the time
Seattle resident Ryan Kirk, who works three blocks from the Space Needle, was walking to a nearby coffee shop Tuesday morning when he heard a loud noise.
"I saw black smoke coming up right by the Space Needle, like the Space Needle was on fire," he said. "I knew it was something serious."
He walked closer to find out what had happened, and was overwhelmed by the smell of burning rubber.
"You almost had to cover your face," he said. "There was helicopter debris everywhere."
Eric Lundberg, of Graham, Wash., was working on a construction site across the street from the crash scene when the helicopter went down. He described a panicked scene.
“I was on the sixth floor and I heard the crash. I ran to the window, saw flames go up and people scatter. People at the job site next door were running to the evacuation site,” Lundberg said. “The flames go up, and people run for their lives.”
Witnesses said police arrived quickly, within perhaps 90 seconds.