Two dead in Seattle news helicopter crash near Space Needle

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Media captionKomo newsreader: "Our eyewitnesses are us... I feel pretty shaken up"

Two people aboard a news helicopter were killed when it crashed in central Seattle at the foot of the landmark Space Needle, fire officials have said.

The helicopter belonging to broadcaster KOMO went down at about 07:52 local time (14:52 GMT).

A man managed to free himself from a car destroyed in the accident, after suffering burns over 50% of his body, a fire department spokesman said.

KOMO said the helicopter was trying to take off when it crashed.

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Image caption Broadcaster KOMO said the helicopter was trying to take off from its roof when it crashed

The broadcaster identified the deceased as photographer Bill Strothman and Gary Pfitzner, both contract workers.

"We mourn the loss of a couple of our co-workers today," KOMO presenter Dan Lewis said on the air. "It's so difficult for us to look at this scene, of the wreckage down there."

The injured man remains in hospital in critical condition.

"At times like this we are reminded that the media, like many of us, are also public servants," Seattle Mayor Ed Murray said at a Tuesday news conference.

"On behalf of Seattle I want to express my deepest consolations to families of both the victims and all their colleagues at KOMO."

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Image caption Helicopter pilot Gary Pfitzner (left) and KOMO photographer Bill Strothman

Three vehicles on the street caught fire as the helicopter crashed right outside KOMO's studios.

A witness told KOMO the engine of the helicopter "sounded extra heavy" as it started up, and he heard an explosion seconds later.

Firefighters arrived to find a huge plume of thick black smoke, said fire department spokesman Kyle Moore.

Aviation fuel leaked from the wreckage and caught fire, helping firefighters' efforts to keep it from contaminating the city's sewer system.

Mr Moore said investigators had no indication the helicopter struck a building.

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Image caption The scene on Broad Street after the crash

Bo Bain, a construction worker nearby, told local broadcaster KING he saw the helicopter land briefly before returning to the air.

"The sound of the helicopter changed kind of drastically and I looked and the helicopter was almost immediately pitched sideways and off balance and he kind of nose-dove over the trees and clipped the top of the trees and crashed on the other side of the street," Mr Bain said.

Police have told Seattle drivers to stay out of the city centre. The National Safety Transportation Board has launched an investigation into the crash.

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