HONOLULU — Fire and helicopter parts rained from the sky Monday in a suburban Honolulu community as a tour helicopter crashed and killed all three people aboard, officials and witnesses said.
"All you could see was fire," witness Melissa Solomon said, explaining that she was driving on the street when she looked up to see flames and a helicopter plummeting in front of her on a two-lane road amid homes.
Paramedics responding to an unrelated call from a patient with leg pain about 30 yards away heard "a horrific bang," said Shayne Enright, a spokeswoman for Honolulu Emergency Medical Services. When they turned around, they saw a helicopter on fire.
"When they got there, neighbors were doing a heroic job trying to put out the fire and also trying to get the patients away from the burning aircraft," Enright said.
The crash occurred in Kailua, a town of 50,000 people about a 30-minute drive from downtown Honolulu.
Megan Lacy, of Alabama, was visiting friends when they heard the crash. They went outside, expecting to find two cars after they had hit each other.
"We were really confused," she said. "And then we heard screaming and the word 'fire,' and I saw smoke."
Debris damaged her rental car about 100 yards from the scene.
Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Ian Gregor said the agency believes three people were on board the four-seat, Robinson R44 aircraft.
He said the circumstances of the crash were unknown.
The helicopter, which was built in 2000, is registered to United Helicopter Leasing LLC of Honolulu, according to FAA records.
Kailua is home to a Marine Corps base. In recent years it's become a popular destination for tourists to go to the beach, hike and shop.
Former President Barack Obama stayed at a rented beachfront vacation home in the town during the winter holidays when he was in the White House.