IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

3 killed in Catalina Island tour chopper crash

Three people died and three others injured after a tour helicopter crashed on an island off the Southern California coast, authorities said.
/ Source: The Associated Press

A tour helicopter crashed 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 shot flames from its exhaust pipe while it was over water, then went down on the west end of Santa Catalina Island near Two Harbors, causing a small fire that was quickly doused, said county sheriff's spokesman Steve Whitmore.

The crash killed two men and one woman immediately, said County Supervising Fire Dispatcher Melanie Flores. Their identities were not released.

Two injured women and one injured man were taken by helicopter to mainland hospitals, Whitmore said. Two of the injured were in critical condition with broken bones and other injuries.

Deborah Hansen said she was out walking when she saw the helicopter lose control and crash, creating a large explosion.

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

She said some passengers were thrown from the aircraft and that she and another bystander pulled survivors away from the flames. She said one woman from the helicopter 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."

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

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.

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 shore, near Los Angeles. It is a popular weekend destination for boating, snorkeling and camping.

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.