Man burned in Seattle helicopter crash has family in Bellingham

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDMarch 19, 2014 

A security guard who watched a KOMO News helicopter crash into the car of Richard Newman, a former Bellingham resident, thought there was no way anyone could survive the horrific accident on Tuesday morning, March 18.

But within minutes, a dazed Newman crawled out from the wreckage, part of his body still on fire, as bystanders rushed to help him.

Brandon O'Neil, a security guard at KOMO TV, said he was helping with crowd control shortly after the helicopter crashed onto Broad Street near the Space Needle.

"We were sure that person (Newman) was killed," O'Neil told KING TV. "Then after close to five minutes, a man crawled out from under the door of his car on his hands and knees. One of my colleagues rushed over there and dragged him to the ground, started patting out the fire."

Newman, 38, of Seattle was listed in serious condition Tuesday in the intensive care unit at at Harborview Medical Center, with second- and third-degree burns on up to 20 percent of his body, said hospital spokeswoman Susan Gregg. Those burns will require surgery at some time, though the need isn't immediate, she said.

He also has cuts on his head and a broken rib.

Newman graduated from Sehome High School in 1994. His family members who still live in Bellingham rushed to Seattle to be by his side.

They have declined to speak with media, Gregg said.

Newman works primarily as a clinical trials project manager at Genelex in Seattle, and also works as a disease intervention specialist with the King County Public Health Department, according to komonews.com.

KOMO identified the deceased 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., the leasing company that operates the Eurocopter AS350 helicopter.

According to various reports, Newman's car apparently was hit by the burning helicopter or its debris Tuesday morning as it sat in traffic near the Seattle Center. Two others who were in cars that were struck by the helicopter were uninjured. One of them, a woman, went to a police station and talked to officers, while a man from the pickup walked to a nearby McDonald's restaurant. Police later located him unhurt.

Only the helicopter's blue tail end could be identified among the wreckage strewn across the street.

Investigators were working to document the scene and clear the wreckage, and will examine all possibilities as they determine what caused the crash, , said Dennis Hogenson, deputy regional chief with the National Transportation Safety Board in Seattle. A preliminary analysis is expected in five days, followed by a fuller report with a probable cause in up to a year.

The Seattle Times and Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Reach Zoe Fraley at 360-756-2803 or zoe.fraley@bellinghamherald.com.

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