Two News Helicopters Collide in Phoenix

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Two news helicopters collided and crashed Friday while covering a police chase on live television, killing four people on board.

The helicopters collided in midair over Steele Indian School Park around 12:40 p.m. while filming the pursuit for Channels 3 and 15, reports CBS News affiliate station KPHO-TV in Phoenix.

KNXV-TV Channel 15 reported that one of the choppers belonged to the station. The other chopper was from KTVK Channel 3 in Phoenix. A pilot and photographer aboard each chopper were killed.

The collision happened as the two choppers broadcast coverage of police pursuing a truck. Just before the collision, the driver of the truck police had been chasing had jumped out of the nearly disabled flatbed pickup and carjacked another truck. The truck was riding on rims because it had run over police stop sticks, KTVK reports.

No one on the ground was hurt.

TV viewers did not actually witness the accident because cameras aboard both aircraft were pointed at the ground. But they saw images from one of the helicopters break up and begin to spin before the station abruptly switched to the studio.

Within a minute, other stations with helicopters in the area began reporting news of the crash.

KNXV reporter Craig Smith, who was among the dead, was reporting live as police chased a man driving a construction truck who had fled a traffic stop and was driving erratically, hitting several cars and driving on the sidewalk at times.

Police had blown the truck's tires, and the man eventually parked it, then carjacked another vehicle nearby.

As police closed in, Smith said, "Oh geez!"

After the picture broke up, the station switched to the studio and then briefly showed regular programming, a soap opera, before announcing that the helicopter had crashed.

The two choppers came down on the grass lawn in front of a boarded-up church at the park. Firefighters swarmed to the area as thick black smoke rose from the scene.

Mary Lewis said she was stuck in traffic with her four grandsons and was watching the helicopters. She turned to talk to the children, then saw a fireball in the air when she looked up again.

"I looked up and I see this 'boom,' and I see one of the helicopters coming down, and I said 'Oh my God,"' Lewis said. She said she went to the crash site to help, but there was nothing she could do.

"It's nothing there," Lewis said. "Just burned-up stuff."

Barbara Cochran, president of the Radio-Television News Directors Association in Washington, said the association does not track fatalities among helicopter news pilots, but she could not recall another example of two news choppers colliding while covering a story.

"The news directors at the stations are members of our association, and our heart really goes out to them in a situation like this," she said. "These pilots, they are very professional. They combine the skills of pilots and skills as journalists. It's something that's very, very sad."