A pilot was killed Wednesday on the San Diego waterfront when his helicopter crashed and burned as it attempted to lift off from a tuna seiner while still lashed to the deck, authorities said.
As the victim's wife watched, authorities said, the helicopter snapped back onto the boat "like a rubber band," according to one witness.
The pilot, Cyril Ronald (Bud) Ladwig, 54, of San Marcos, was declared dead at the scene at the 10th Avenue Terminal.
No one else was reported injured, although divers searched the area near the boat for potential casualties.
A dozen firefighters and a fire boat extinguished a small fuel blaze that resulted when the spotter craft hit the starboard side of the seiner.
San Diego Harbor Police are investigating. The Federal Aviation Administration was also expected to investigate the matter.
Ladwig, owner of International Aeromarine Services in Oceanside, was a licensed helicopter pilot and mechanic who was performing a test flight when the accident occurred, said Penne F. Hammerstead, deputy San Diego County coroner. Ladwig had completed routine service on the aircraft and returned it to the harbor on Tuesday, Hammerstead said.
There was no indication of mechanical failure, and investigators were assuming the crash was caused by pilot error, Hammerstead said.
The accident occurred shortly after 4 p.m., when the helicopter tried to take off while one of four tethers securing it on the boat remained lashed to the deck, Hammerstead said.
The victim's wife, Sandra Ladwig, accompanied him to the harbor, as was her custom, and witnessed the accident, Hammerstead said. The Ladwigs have six children.
After the crash, much of the helicopter was reduced to a twisted wad of metal wreckage, its tail hanging over the side of the boat.
"The copter got about five feet off the ground and, like a rubber band, it snapped right back down," said witness Larry O'Brien, a dock employee. "Somebody yelled 'It's going to blow!' and everybody started to run."
The boat, the Chac Mool, registered in Mexico, is owned by the Charles Dorsch Agency of San Diego, the coroner's office said.