How common are fatal aircraft crashes in Seattle?

by: Casey McNerthney, KIRO 7 STAFF Updated:

Investigators look through the charred wreckage of a news helicopter and two vehicles after the chopper crashed into a city street near the Space Needle, Tuesday, March 18, 2014, in Seattle. Two people were killed and another was critically injured. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

Seattle city leaders, including Mayor Ed Murray, were not immediately sure if a helicopter crashed in Seattle, however it appears Tuesday's tragedy was the first fatal helicopter crash in Seattle since 1974.

On June 21, 1974, two police officers -- one who was the pilot and another who was the passenger -- died after a midair collision with a small plane. Police were tracking a stolen car over Beacon Hill.

Killed that day were Officer James St. DeLore, 31, and James Forbes, 32.

Paul Brendle, who flew a helicopter for KIRO radio from 1978 to 1987, had three crashes, including a 1982 crash into Lake Washington. Brendle and a passenger walked away, though his second crash a year later in Kent left him with chronic back pain. Brendle died an unrelated death in 2002 at age 55.

In fall 2005, two nurses and a pilot died when an Airlift Northwest medical helicopter crashed near Edmonds, north of Seattle.

Previous fatal aircraft crashes in Seattle include:

  • A June 21, 1956 crash on Beacon Hill. Three men were killed when two light planes collided.
  • On Aug. 13, 1951, a B-50 bomber crashed into apartments killing 11 people on Beacon Hill.
  • On Jan. 2, 1949, 14 people were killed when a DC-3 airliner crashed at Boeing Field.
  • On July 19, 1949, seven were killed in a Georgetown airplane crash.
  • On Nov. 30, 1947 an Alaska Airlines C-54 charter airplane crashed at Sea-Tac killing nine and injuring 17.
  • On Feb. 18, 1943, a prototype Boeing B-29 on a secret flight crashed into a Seattle packing plant killing 32 people overall.
  • On May 7, 1938, a floatplane crashed in Lake Union killing two.
  • On Nov. 3, 1937, Navy planes doing gunning maneuvers crashed over Boeing Field killing five. Two others parachuted to safety.
  • Washington’s first airplane fatality was at the Meadows Race Track in Georgetown on May 30, 1912. One spectator died that day and another died days later. The Meadows is where Boeing Field was built in 1928.

Mayor Ed Murray said at a news conference hours after the Tuesday crash that Seattle's regulations on helipads changed at least 20 years ago, when the city instituted more rules and limited where helicopters could take off and land.

"We need to look at it," he said of the regulations. "In consultation with the council, we will decide if we need to adjust our policies."

An online list of public and private airports in King County indicates Seattle has a dozen heliports. Two are run by the University of Washington; two are at area hospitals; one is operated by the Boeing Company; three are run by TV stations; and the rest are listed as private corporate sites.

The mayor's office confirmed there are about 12 helipads in Seattle, but spokesman Jeff Reading said the office doesn't track them.

Current rules allow helipads to be used downtown and in some commercial zones and industrial areas. They can be used only for public service, emergency medical care and for news agencies, Reading said.

City Council approval is required for new locations. Before 1990, helipads also were allowed for private use.

Information from and Associated Press reporter Donna Gordon Blankinship is included in this report.

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