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Helicopter pilot dies, witness burned in Birchwood crash

Suzanna Caldwell,Jerzy Shedlock
Bill Roth

A helicopter pilot died in a crash at Birchwood Airport on Wednesday afternoon, authorities said.

The crash was first reported at 2:30 p.m., according to Clifton Dalton, assistant chief at Chugiak Volunteer Fire and Rescue Company. He said crews responded in minutes to find the helicopter engulfed in flames.

Anchorage Police Thursday morning identified the victim as 62-year-old Tom Moore, of Anchorage.

Dalton did not know who the helicopter belonged to nor whether it had been landing or taking off.

According to Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Allen Kenitzer, the helicopter was a Robinson R-44. He said the cause of the crash remained unknown.

Anchorage police spokeswoman Jennifer Castro said police were still working to notify next of kin Wednesday.

Dalton said a bystander who saw the crash suffered serious burns while attempting to rescue the pilot and was transported to Providence Alaska Medical Center for treatment.

The wreckage of the helicopter sat charred at the south end of the runway Wednesday evening. Only its yellow tail remained intact.

Witnesses said they saw the helicopter carrying a load that appeared to be a 55-gallon drum. John Markis, who had been leaving Birchwood Airport, saw the helicopter just before the crash. He said it had dropped its load, but it was unclear if that had been planned.

Israel Payton said he was working at nearby Airframes Alaska when he heard a loud bang. He said noise at the airport isn't unusual. There's a shooting range nearby, and helicopter pilots often practice there. But this bang was unusually loud.

When he looked out, he saw the helicopter on the ground in flames. Payton said he recognized the helicopter as one that usually stays parked at the airport, but he did not know who owned it. He told his colleagues to call 911 and ran outside with a fire extinguisher.

Payton said other people quickly rushed to help put out the fire, though small fire extinguishers did nothing to stop the flames, which quickly engulfed the helicopter.

Payton said one bystander suffered badly burned hands while trying to pull the pilot out of the helicopter, but an explosion pushed the would-be rescuer back.

After the crash, several police vehicles and two fire trucks were on scene as police interviewed witnesses. The National Transportation Safety Board had investigators on scene, collecting and sorting evidence.

Catherine Gagne, air safety investigator with the NTSB, said the investigation was still in its preliminary stages and it was too early to determine the cause of the crash.

Gagne is based out of Atlanta but was assigned to work in Alaska because of the state's high number of air crashes in summer.

 


By SUZANNA CALDWELL AND JERZY SHEDLOCK
Alaska Dispatch