SEATTLE (USA TODAY) -- A TV helicopter trying to take off next to Seattle's Space Needle crashed into several vehicles on the ground Tuesday, killing two people and shrouding the popular observation tower in a large plume of dark smoke, KING5.com reports.
A third person, a 37-year-old male, managed to pull himself out of a burning car. He was hospitalized in critical condition, KING5 reports. The bodies of the two victims, who were on board the helicopter, were found in the wreckage.
KOMO-TV, whose station is located at the site, confirmed that it owns the helicopter, which was being used in a joint partnership with KING5.
One witness, Brian Cruz, told KOMO that it looked as if the chopper "got hung up on some cables" as it was preparing to take off, and tumbled into the street.
PHOTOS: Seattle Helicopter Crash
"It just blew up instantly," Chris McColgan, another witness, who was stopped at a nearby light, told The Seattle Times.
Television station employees rushed to the window at the sound of the crash, then to the crash site KOMO reports.
The two victims were identified as former longtime KOMO News photographer Bill Strothman, who worked as a free-lancer and pilot Gary Pfitzner.
"We all know (Strothman) as one of the best storytellers to have ever graced the halls of KOMO," said news anchor and reporter Molly Shen. "It felt like a loss for us because he knows his craft so well, and he's such an artist and such a great journalist."
On air, KOMO-TV anchor Dan Lewis said "we mourn the loss of a couple of our co-workers today."
"It's so difficult for us to look at this scene, of the wreckage down there," he said.
The scene is half a block outside the main entrance to Seattle's iconic Space Needle, the tower and restaurant built for 1962 World's Fair.
Next to it is the Pacific Science Center, a children's science museum that is a frequent destination of travellers.
Visitors on Seattle' monorail zip one block away, along 5th Avenue, where they have a view of the KOMO television building just before turning into the grounds of the Seattle Center. The building's roof is the site of the helicopter's landing pad.
Other cities have experienced helicopter crashes as TV stations rush to cover the news from above major cities.
Two news helicopters collided in midair in Phoenix in 2007 as the aircraft covered a police chase, sending fiery wreckage plummeting onto a park. Four people in the helicopters were killed.
The crash prompted changes at the stations in how they operated their helicopter crews.
Contributing: Elizabeth Weise; The Associated Press