Helo Crash

Witnesses tell inquest helicopter was flying erratically before crash

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Witnesses tell inquest helicopter was flying erratically before crash

A helicopter that crashed onto a street, killing three on board and a student on the ground, sounded "like a lawnmower running out of gas" before it plunged to the Earth, a coroner's inquest has heard.

Phillip Spring, who lived near the crash site at the time of the 2008 incident, told the inquest on Tuesday he saw the helicopter flying low over the area.

As he watched, Mr. Spring said, the engine began to splutter.

"The sound just before it crashed was like a lawnmower running out of gas," Mr. Spring said. "It was close enough I could see there was people inside, low enough I could see the pilot waving cars and people away just before it came down."

Witness Greg Eaton was doing repairs on an apartment building when he heard the helicopter in trouble.

"Two seconds before the crash, I heard four full rotations of the blades, slowing, then the crash. Each rotation was slower than the last," he told the inquest via teleconference.

Pilot Edward Heeb, 57, and B.C. Hydro line technicians Dirk Rozenboom, 45, and Robert Lehmann, 37, were on board the helicopter and were killed in the May 2008 crash.

The fourth victim, Isaiah Otieno, 20, was a pedestrian who was struck by the aircraft as it fell.

The inquest opened Tuesday and is expected to last three days.

Rick Schram, a resident of the apartment building near the crash site, watched the helicopter as it circled his home, saying he thought it was behaving normally at first, although it was very low.

"I saw it shudder and twist," Mr. Schram testified. "Then it dropped right out of the sky. I couldn't hear the engine any more, just the rotor."

Joe Pierre testified he was driving along the street where the helicopter crashed. His vehicle was hit by wreckage, but he was uninjured.

He said just before the crash, his attention was drawn away by a tall man he saw walking on the sidewalk.

"He seemed to be bouncing as he was walking. He had a great big huge smile on his face. I thought to myself, `Wow, that's one happy guy,'" said Mr. Pierre.

A second later, Mr. Pierre felt his car rock. He looked behind him and saw a fireball. He jumped out of the car, looked back and saw two witnesses - Mr. Schram and Mr. Eaton - pulling a body from the flames. He recognized the body as the man he had just seen on the sidewalk.

The next day, Mr. Pierre learned his car had taken damage to the trunk, passenger side, front bumper and roof.

RCMP Corporal Chris Faulkner said by the time he arrived two minutes after the crash, the fireball was not recognizable as a helicopter.

Coroner Gerry MacIntyre told the jury that he had determined cause of death for the three men aboard the helicopter as "multiple blunt trauma injuries associated with the rapid deceleration of the helicopter".

A report by the Transportation Safety Board in 2009 found that the helicopter was flying too low to allow the pilot to land safely after losing power.