San Diego

Two Dead in Helicopter Crash at Palomar Airport

A helicopter pilot and his friend were killed after their chopper spun out of control and caught fire while landing at McClellan-Palomar Airport Wednesday in Carlsbad, California, officials confirmed.

The pilot was identified as Bruce Allen Erickson, 65, of Rancho Santa Fe. His passenger was identified as Wayne Frank Lewis, 60, of Cardiff by the Sea. Both were confirmed dead at the scene.

Authorities said the pair had been practicing landings when the helicopter's tail hit the ground,.

Video sent to NBC 7 showed the AS350 AStar helicopter after it touched down on the runway at 4:20 p.m. on Wednesday. As its blades continued rotating, the chopper spun round and round for more than a minute before the tail broke off and smoke engulfed it.

According to witnesses, the helicopter continued spinning for another five minutes. When it stopped, both people onboard were dead, Carlsbad Fire officials said.

The airport, located at 2198 Palomar Airport Road, was temporarily closed following the deadly accident. On Thursday morning, officials announced the airport had reopened for helicopter operations amid the NTSB investigation, but the runway remained closed until further notice.

By 3:30 p.m., the runway had reopened and the airport was fully operating, airport officials said.

Witness Marlena Niemann posted a video of the scene of the crash to Twitter.

A firefighter told NBC 7 the helicopter is a single-engine AStar, made by the French company Airbus. They are most frequently used in corporate settings.

The man flying the chopper was a new pilot, according to a helicopter instructor who said he knew the victim.

The pilot was trying to land on a helicopter landing cart when the crash occurred, he said. The cart is used to help tow aircrafts into hangars, but if pilots do not land on it correctly, the result can be catastrophic.

"Flying helicopters, what seemed odd is that the engine was still wide open it was they didn't turn the throttle off. Why that happened is beyond me," said witness Mark Simo.

Carnell Chappelle, a recreational pilot, was planning to meet his wife and friends for an evening flight out of Palomar. He saw the emergency lights as he drove down the main road and pulled over to the scene.

He told NBC 7 weather would not have played a factor in the crash because winds are calm and skies are clear.

"I feel for the people that this has happened to and the fatalities," Chappelle said. "The flying community, every time we see this, our heart breaks because it's one of our family, one of our own that has perished in this."

[G] 2 Killed in Helicopter Crash at Palomar Airport

The pilot also said because he could detect what smelled like gasoline in the air, it indicated the helicopter probably did not run out of fuel.

The Federal Aviation Administration and National Transportation Safety Board will investigate to determine the crash's cause at first light Thursday. That's also when they'll begin removing the aircraft. Fire officials say the cause appears to be landing-related.

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