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Helicopter crash kills 3

An Island Express sightseeing flight goes down on Santa Catalina Island near Two Harbors.

May 25, 2008|Jason Song | Times Staff Writer

Three people were killed and three others were injured, two critically, when a sightseeing helicopter crashed Saturday morning near Two Harbors on the remote west side of Santa Catalina Island, Los Angeles County sheriff's deputies said.

The helicopter, registered to the sightseeing company Island Express, crashed about 9:30 a.m. near the Little Red Schoolhouse's baseball diamond, a short distance from the town's only hotel, the Banning House Lodge, Deputy Denise Fuchs said.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday, May 28, 2008 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 43 words Type of Material: Correction
Helicopter crash: Credits accompanying photos of a helicopter crash on Santa Catalina Island on Sunday twice misspelled the name of photographer Rigoberto Balderas. It was given as Rigaberto Balteras in a photo in the A section, and Rigaberto Balderas in the California section.

A witness saw a fireball coming from the exhaust pipe of the helicopter as it flew over the water, sheriff's officials said at an afternoon news conference.

The sky was overcast but there was negligible wind and no rain at the time of the accident, officials said.

Two men and a woman were pronounced dead at the scene, said Los Angeles County Supervising Fire Dispatcher Melanie Flores. They could not immediately be identified, a spokesman from the coroner's office said. Two people with critical injuries were flown to Harbor-UCLA Medical Center in Torrance. Another injured person was taken to County-USC Medical Center in downtown Los Angeles, Flores said.

A woman who answered the phone at the Island Express offices declined to comment.

According to its website, Island Express offers exclusive helicopter tours of Southern California and Santa Catalina Island. The company, whose site says it flies "four top-of-the-line turbine helicopters," was founded in 1982 and operates out of a base near the Queen Mary in Long Beach. It advertises private tours for groups of up to six people and employs three mechanics, according to the website.

In 1985, an Island Express helicopter collided with another helicopter from San Pedro after picking up passengers at Avalon, Catalina's largest town. One person was killed and 11 others were injured.

The Island Express Eurocopter AS350, built in 1984, departed from Long Beach around 8:30 a.m. Saturday, according to Allen Kenitzer, a Federal Aviation Administration spokesman. It picked up five passengers on the island, Kenitzer said.

The flight's destination was not known, he said.

A witness said the wreckage was confined to a small area in a grassy field near the town's harbor.

The crash ignited a small brush fire, which was quickly extinguished.

Two Harbors is the smaller and more isolated of Catalina's two towns.

The accident came at the beginning of Catalina's tourist season. The island attracts an estimated 1 million visitors a year.

Before Saturday, the island and its surrounding waters had been the site of 16 deaths in seven fatal aircraft crashes -- all small, private aircraft, according to the National Transportation Safety Board. The deadliest was a Christmas Eve 2003 daytime flight out of Long Beach that crashed into a mountain, killing all five people aboard.

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jason.song@latimes.com

Times staff writers Carla Hall and Jean-Paul Renaud contributed to this report.

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