NTSB begins fatal SkyEye13 crash probe

HOUSTON The last video from SkyEye showed it in a steep bank and then the signal broke up. Emergency crews then found the chopper in Montgomery County on fire and in pieces.

SkyEye 13 pilot John Downhower and photographer Dave Garrett were killed when the chopper went down in a wooded area near the intersection of FM 1488 and Peoples Road yesterday.

We have confirmed through Hooks Airport that no distress call was issued prior to the crash, a crash that apparently happened very quickly.

"The helicopter blades, and just, 'boom' -- it stopped," said witness Harold Robinson.

It was just after 11am when Robinson heard the crash.

"I didn't feel anything," he recalled. "I just knew it was an explosion, and in my mind, I knew somebody got killed."

Soon after, Robinson drove to the crash site in the wooded area, about a quarter mile behind his home, and his suspicions were confirmed.

"I seen no fire, just smoke," he said. "I did not see the helicopter at any time."

SkyEye, which is owned by Helicopters Inc. and leased to Metro, had been covering a shoot-out in southwest Montgomery County. The last images fed in to Channel 13 before the crash show the landing skid as the helicopter banked hard to the right.

Witness Riley Swanson saw it all from his backyard.

He said, "He just cleared the back side of our subdivision when I noticed his chopper made a sharp right-hand -- down, straight down into the ground -- turn."

Swanson also said it looked like the pilot was flying low.

"It looks like the helicopter impacted ground at a very steep angle," said Kenneth Hiebert with the Texas Department of Public Safety.

The extent of the damage will be an issue, as authorities try to figure out exactly what happened.

Hiebert explained, "He gouged a decent-sized hole in the ground, and once it did that, it broke apart from hitting the ground and also from going through the trees."

Metcalf Funeral Home will be handling the bodies. An official with the FAA was on the scene investigating the cause of the crash Monday afternoon.

KTRK spokesperson Tom Ash released the following statement:

    "All of us at KTRK-TV are deeply saddened by the tragic accident involving SkyEye13 and our hearts go out to the families of the pilot and the photographer."

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