Chopper crash witness: 'Some of us are lucky to be alive today'

SEATTLE -- Four people were in their vehicles Tuesday morning when the KOMO News helicopter came crashing down near the base of the Space Needle.

One driver, 38-year-old Richard Newman, suffered severe burns when the chopper hit his car and exploded. Three others had a harrowing front-row seat to the horrific crash.

One thing was clear to all the witnesses: the chopper was in trouble, and they knew they might be, too.

"Some of us are lucky to be alive today," said Pete Williams.

Williams said he'll never forget the images that led up to the crash. He was inside his car, just four car lengths back from where the helicopter crashed.

"Debris was flying," he said. "A piece of it hit my car. I saw it coming, so my carpool partner and I both ducked down behind the dashboard, and then it glanced off my car."

The Washington State Ferry captain was just a block away from his office when he and his carpool buddy, coworker Donna Wharton, first noticed trouble.

"I was looking up, and I said, 'Should that helicopter be doing that?' and I was like, something looks off, and he's like, 'No, it shouldn't.' And right then it just came down and it hit," Wharton said.

Williams said the helicopter nose dived off the Fisher Plaza launch pad. He said he could see the pilot struggling to correct the problem.

"It was unstable, it was pitching and going up and down," he said.

Wharton also looked up and knew immediately that something was horribly wrong with the chopper.

"Its tail wobbled, it did a couple tail spins, and then the nose was coming down a little bit more, and then swooped down, and hit," she said.

Williams slammed on his brakes and attempted to back up.

Kallie Meno was heading to work early Tuesday when she found herself in the wrong place at the wrong time. Stopped at a red light next to the Space Needle, Meno looked up and saw the KOMO helicopter taking off.

"It looked like a toddler learning how to walk," she said. "It was all over the place."

Seconds later the chopper crashed to earth mere feet from Meno's car.

"It started to go down really quickly and almost nose dive behind me. I just looked in my rear view mirror. I was too afraid to watch it," she said.

She jumped out of her Jeep, thinking the trail of fire could take her, too.

"This is a terrible idea. This could all go up in flames. I could die right here," she said.

Meno was lucky. She wasn't hurt and her Jeep wasn't damaged.

Dozens of witnesses watched in horror as a man on fire ran for cover. Flames from the crash charred every inch of his car.

"His jacket is in flames, he's on fire,rolling on the floor. I see firemen helping him get it out," said witness Meela Taurc.

Newman is currently in the intensive care unit at Harborview Medical Center and will need surgery to treat his burns.