A helicopter contracted for service by the Metropolitan Mosquito Control District crashed into a garage in a Maplewood, Minn., neighborhood Wednesday morning, killing the pilot.
FOX 9 News confirmed 44-year-old Michael Kramer, of St. Charles, was piloting the helicopter owned by Scott's Helicopter Service when it crashed at 8:13 a.m. on the 2700 block of 7th street. He was killed instantly.
"People that do mosquito control, it's a pretty small industry. So, this is a very, very sad day for us," said Jim Stark, of MMCD.
Maplewood Acting Police Chief Dave Kvam said Kramer was the only person inside the helicopter. No other injuries were reported and the owners of the property were not home at the time of the crash.
Police said the helicopter went down in a spiral before hitting the detached garage, but investigators say it is too early to tell what led up to the crash.
Kramer had loaded up and taken off shortly before the crash, and while residents who live near the wetlands where mosquitos often breed are used to seeing the low-flying choppers make their maneuvers, they knew something was different this time.
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A witness told FOX 9 she heard what initially sounded like a plane flying over her home before she heard a boom and saw smoke and flames coming from her neighbor's garage.
"I thought he was doing some kind of aerial trick or something, then he looked like he was going to do a motion to do a circle in the air, but he didn't pull up," Kristine Pfaff told FOX 9 News. "He just went straight down and he wasn't that high off the trees before that happened."
She immediately called 911 as other neighbors tried to put out the fire with garden hoses.
Other witnesses also told FOX 9 News the aircraft appeared to have problems prior to the crash.
"When I noticed it was struggling to go upwards, I ran to my window and then, all of a sudden, it just kind of turned a little and then ... hit the ground," Tambra Thomas, who captured video of the crash, told FOX 9.
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"I was shaking," said Christine Stenger. "I immediately called 911, not thinking that I would be the first one, but I think I was."
The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the cause of the crash.
MMCD has operates a fleet of seven helicopters, and they have already treated about 100,000 acres this year. Stark told FOX 9 News accidents like these are extremely rare.
"They've got an exemplary safety record. We've had four incidents that I'm aware of over the last 25 years -- the previous ones I would describe as more of a forced landing," he said. "This is certainly the most significant of the ones I'm aware of."
The Bell 47 has been the workhorse of aerial applications, with pilots using sophisticated GPS technology to track precisely where they've applied chemicals.
"They do fly at relatively lower altitudes, lower air speeds, and they are over a residential community, as you can see," Aaron Sauer, of the NTSB, told FOX 9 News.
While NTSB investigators were at the site within hours of the crash, it could be 6 months or more before they release their findings on what caused the crash. The wreckage of the chopper has been hauled to a secure garage near the company's headquarters in Le Seur. The NTSB will begin to inspect the maintenance records and the aircraft on Thursday.
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