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Aug 6, 2004
Three Killed, Three Hurt as Chopper Crashes on Catalina Island

Last Edited: Saturday, 24 May 2008, 5:07 PM PDT
Created: Saturday, 24 May 2008, 5:06 PM PDT

Associated Press Writer

LOS ANGELES, Calif. -- Los Angeles -- A tour helicopter crashed in rainy weather on an island off the Southern California coast Saturday morning, killing three people and injuring three others, a county sheriff's deputy said.

The helicopter went down on the west end of Santa Catalina Island near Two Harbors, causing a small fire that was quickly doused, authorities said. Helicopters airlifted the three injured to mainland hospitals.

County Supervising Fire Dispatcher Melanie Flores said their condition at the time of transport was critical and that they would require treatment for broken bones among other injuries.

The crash killed two men and one woman immediately, said Flores.

County sheriff's spokesman Steve Whitmore said the bodies had been identified, but names and ages would not be released until notification of next of kin.

Two injured women and one injured man were taken to mainland hospitals. Two of the injured were in critical condition, Whitmore said.

The Eurocopter AS 350 chopper was a private tour aircraft from Island Express, Deputy Chuck Upton said.

Federal Aviation Administration records show the helicopter departed from Long Beach and was scheduled to return to that city. The crash occurred less than an hour after the helicopter picked up passengers on the island. The cause of the crash was not immediately known.

The island is 21 miles south of the California coast, near Los Angeles.

In a telephone interview, Rayn Horth, 14, said she sprinted to the site of the crash from the nearby Isthmus Yacht Club where her family was staying.

"I just saw the helicopter in flames, and basically there was black smoke everywhere," Horth said. "It was still on fire, with all this black smoke and it was making popping noises."

Horth's mother, Debora Hansen helped pull survivors from the debris. Hansen said she was taking a walk at the yacht club when she saw the helicopter out of control.

"I just knew it was going to crash," she said. "I just started running and got to it just as it crashed."

It went down in a huge explosion, Hansen said. Some of the passengers were thrown from the aircraft and Hansen said she and another man began pulling the survivors away from the flames. One woman was able to crawl to safety but a male survivor couldn't move.

"He said, 'I've got broken legs,' and I said, 'I'm going to pull you anyway or you're going to burn up in the flames,"' Hansen recalled. "The ambulances arrived within seconds it seemed."

Hansen said her training as an American Airlines flight attendant helped her stay calm, but she was still shaken.

"My mom made the whole family promise not to ever go up in a helicopter," Horth said.

The crash occurred near the Banning House lodge, which overlooks a popular boating spot. A woman who answered the phone at the lodge confirmed reports that the chopper's engine appeared to quit, crashing about 200 to 300 yards inland in grass.

Saturday afternoon, the scene of the crash was little more than a charred area of grass, strewn with helicopter parts.

The owner of Island Express had gone to the scene of the crash, said a woman who answered the company's telephone. She declined to give her name and other details.

An Island Express sightseeing chopper made a hard landing on the island in 1999, slightly injuring six tourists.

The company provides charters and tours to the island and other Southern California destinations, according to the company's Web site. The company also does movie and television work and services offshore oil platforms.

Catalina Island is a popular weekend destination for boating, snorkeling and camping.