Crippled news chopper crashes during Sao Paulo rush hour; pilot dies, but avoids busy highway

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Chopper crashes during Sao Paulo rush hour, 1 dead

SAO PAULO — A TV news helicopter pilot steered his crippled, out-of-control aircraft away from a busy highway before crashing in a grassy field during rush hour Wednesday, losing his own life but avoiding greater casualties. A cameraman onboard was seriously injured.

The Record TV helicopter was destroyed after going down next to the track of Sao Paulo’s Jockey Club horse racing complex, a few hundred yards (meters) from heavy traffic on the thoroughfare.

Video from Globo TV showed the aircraft spinning wildly and plummeting to the ground as smoke belched from its engine.

Record TV said the pilot was pronounced dead at a hospital, and the cameraman was in intensive care with several broken bones and serious head injuries. They were the only two onboard, and no one on the ground was hurt.

The crash happened near the peak morning commute on the Marginal Pinheiros, one of Sao Paulo’s busiest highways.

“The pilot was a hero because he was able to take the helicopter to a clear area, which is not something easy to do in Sao Paulo,” air force Lt. Col. Ricardo Beltran Crespo told O Globo newspaper.

Crespo, one of the officers in charge of the investigation, said the probe would focus on possible engine failure because of the smoke and the way the aircraft fell.

Globo TV’s helicopter was flying in the same area when it received a distress call.

“The pilot reported a problem and I decided to follow him to see what was going on,” Globo pilot Dato de Oliveira said. “He reported a problem on the tail, which is something rare, but it’s vital in a helicopter.”

Oliveira landed his own chopper after the crash and rushed to try to help the victims. He said he turned the fuel pump and the battery off in the downed helicopter to avoid an explosion.

The two helicopters were covering morning traffic and police response to a bank robbery.

Brazil’s air force said it was the third helicopter crash this year in Sao Paulo, which is home to one of the world’s bigger fleets in large part due to its horrendous traffic jams.

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