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Mon, Oct 13, 2008

Pilot, Photographer Lost In News Helo Accident

Witness Says Helo Pitched Sharply Right Before Crash

ANN REALTIME UPDATE 10.13.08 2230 EDT: Officials have identified the victims of the Monday morning downing of a news helicopter northwest of Houston, TX.

Pilot John Downhower and photographer Dave Garrett were killed when their Bell 206L-4 Long-Ranger helicopter crashed as it flew to the scene of a police-involved shootout near Magnolia. Both were employed by Houston ABC affiliate KTRK-13; the accident aircraft was the station's helicopter, known as "SkyEye HD."

The station confirmed no distress signal was issued before the helicopter fell from the sky. KTRK said last video image received from the helicopter showed one of the landing skids, with the aircraft apparently in a sharp right bank.

Riley Swanson, who saw the accident unfold from the ground, gave a similar account. "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 said, adding the helicopter (type shown below) was flying extremely low when the accident occurred.

Investigators with the FAA and NTSB were on scene Monday night.

According to the station, Garrett had worked with the station "for years," and often reported on breaking news from the air. " We didn't often see him on air, but he talked us through some of the biggest stories this city has seen," KTRK said.

Downhower, 43, was rated to fly both fixed-wing and rotary-winged aircraft. He worked for Helicopters, Inc, the company that operated the 206L4 for the station. Prior to his work for the station, he flew helicopters in the Gulf of Mexico, and before that as a news pilot in California.

KTRK spokesperson Tom Ash released the following statement Monday: "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."

Original Report

1330 EDT: Two persons onboard a news helicopter, type unconfirmed, were killed Monday morning when the helicopter crashed in a wooded area near the Houston suburb of Magnolia, TX.

Local media reports state the crew onboard the helicopter was covering a police-involved shooting for KTRK-13 when the aircraft crashed just after 1100 CDT.

The Channel 13 helicopter -- believed to be "SkyEyeHD 13" -- crashed about five miles from the site of a shooting following a police chase. Investigators have not disclosed any possible causes for the downing.

SkyEyeHD-13 is a 1993 Bell Model 206L4 Long Ranger, reports Fox-26.

Representatives with KTRK have not released the names of the victims, saying only the ABC-affiliate did not directly employ the two. The station lost uplink contact with the helo about 1115.

ANN will update this story as more information becomes available.

FMI: www.faa.gov

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