Phoenix TV choppers crash; four dead

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NEW YORK -- Four people died Friday afternoon when two local TV stations' helicopters collided over a Phoenix park while following a police chase.

The choppers belonged to ABC affiliate KNXV and independent station KTVK.

Three or four choppers were following what reports said was a police pursuit of a stolen construction truck when the accident occurred. Witnesses said it appeared that one of the choppers was flying above the other when they collided; a large piece came off one of the helicopters, and both burst into flames and fell to the ground in the Steele Indian School Park.

"It happened so fast," one witness told a shaken news team at KTVK, who reported that
pilot-reporter Scott Bowerbank and photographer Jim Cox were killed.

"He was one of our finest, one of our very finest," one anchor tearfully said of Bowerbank during her station's coverage of the crash.

KNXV said its reporter-pilot Craig Smith and photographer Rick Krolak also died in the crash.

Smith was reporting live as police chased a man driving a construction truck who had fled a traffic stop. The man 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 crash will be investigated by the National Transportation Safety Board, but it will take months before a final report will be filed.

Helicopters are widely used by TV and radio stations not only for traffic reports but also for police chases and other breaking news. Several have gone down in recent years, including the May 2006 crash of a WNBC-TV chopper on a roof in Brooklyn, in which three people were injured. Two staffers were injured in the 1998 crash of a WNBC-TV chopper into the Passaic River in New Jersey.

In Los Angeles, former U2 spy plane pilot Francis Gary Powers was killed in the crash of his helicopter as he worked for KNBC-TV in 1977.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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