Investigators looking for cause of deadly chopper crash

February 15, 2010 4:24:04 AM PST
Investigators are working to determine the cause of a fiery helicopter crash just north of Phoenix that killed at least three people, including a child. The Eurocopter EC135 went down and burst into flames at about 3 p.m. MST Sunday in an area known as Cave Creek.

Authorities have confirmed three fatalities but no identities have been released. Deputy Lindsey Smith, a spokeswoman for the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office, said that since since the chopper can hold six people, officials are looking into whether there were additional victims.

The helicopter was registered to Services Group of America in Scottsdale, Ariz., a large privately held foodservice and real estate firm.

The Seattle Times quoted company spokesman Brad Parker as saying that it was the private aircraft of SGA owner Thomas J. Stewart, who moved SGA's headquarters from Seattle in 2006. But Parker said the company has received conflicting information on who was aboard.

Residents in the area heard noises and saw parts flying off the helicopter before it crashed.

"I saw the helicopter flying in the air and that stuff that goes round, up, the rotors were coming apart and then I said, 'OK something wrong is gonna happen,"' witness Nicoleta Nork told KTVK-TV. "And I just saw it rolling, rolling and boom, then big smoke and yeah, terrible."

The area is a mix of rolling hills, dry desert washes and lots of houses. The chopper came down in a wash between two homes, Smith said.

"It's a pretty horrific crash," she said. "It's just obliterated."

The debris scattered over hundreds of feet, and deputies were contacting nearby residents to make sure none were hurt and that all the debris was collected for use by investigators. No injuries on the ground were immediately reported.

Federal Aviation Administration were investigating, spokesman Ian Gregor said, and a National Transportation Safety Board investigator was expected to arrive on Monday morning.