Helicopter pilots face high risks in the air - San Diego, California News Station - KFMB Channel 8 - cbs8.com

Helicopter pilots face high risks in the air

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  • Investigators comb scene of deadly chopper crash

    Investigators comb scene of deadly chopper crash

    Tuesday, March 18 2014 10:55 PM EDT2014-03-19 02:55:14 GMT
    A news helicopter crashed into a street and burst into flames Tuesday near Seattle's Space Needle, killing both people on board, badly injuring a man in a car and sending plumes of black smoke over the city. 
    A news helicopter crashed into a street and burst into flames Tuesday near Seattle's Space Needle, killing both people on board, badly injuring a man in a car and sending plumes of black smoke over the city during the morning commute. 

SAN DIEGO (CBS 8) – We rely on helicopters for so many things, from emergency medical services to traffic reporting, but the NTSB says since 2004, there has been an unacceptably high number of helicopter accidents, resulting in over 500 deaths.

Still, a local helicopter pilot at SciFly says it's still a very safe way to travel, and shares his insight with CBS News 8, as the NTSB investigates the fatal crash in Seattle.

Those who watched the KOMO television news helicopter crash to the ground say it didn't look like a normal takeoff.

Witness Christopher Reynolds says the helicopter only got about four feet off the helipad before it made a sudden turn.

"It did a counterclockwise turn and then went off and went into a side nose dive into the street," Reynolds said.

Eddie Kisfaludy, chief pilot for San Diego aeronautics firm SciFly, says the main rotor or tail rotor might have come into contact with some sort of object, possibly a bird, or the chopper might have had engine failure, which is something helicopter pilots are trained to survive.

"If your engine fails while flying, you go into something called auto-rotation," Kisfaludy explained.

Much like a falling seed pod, he says, your helicopter should glide down, but survivability decreases if you have less room for error.

"If you're in a confined space in a city, you don't have as many options as you would flying out of a larger airfield," Kisfaludy said.

Chopper 8 flies in and out of Gillespie Field in El Cajon.

"Definitely, it hits very close to home because that's exactly what I do on a daily basis," traffic reporter Phil Konstatin said.

Konstatin loves to fly, but the former highway patrol officer knows it does come with risks.

"Technically anytime you go up you may not come down, and they always say any landing you walk away from is a good one and so far they've all been good landings," he said.

The NTSB is investigating to see what caused the chopper in Seattle to go down, but on its website 2014 fact sheet, the agency lists helicopter safety as a top priority, with critical changes needed to save lives.

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