NTSB investigating fatal Corona helicopter explosion

CORONA, Calif.

FAA officials have confirmed a pilot has died after a four-seat Robinson R-44 helicopter exploded into flames near the fuel pumps at the Corona Municipal Airport around 11 p.m. Sunday.

Investigators said a blade from the chopper may have struck the canopy above the refuelling pumps and caused the accident.

"We have two ear witnesses," said Howard Plagens, a NTSB Air Safety Investigator. "They heard the roller blades and motor turning and all of a sudden they heard it stop. They heard a bang and then they heard the explosion. "

Investigators with the NTSB said a rotor from the chopper flew off and caused damage to a hanger about a hundred yards away. However, they are still trying to determine the exact cause of the accident.

"We really don't know much," said Plagens. "We don't know if he was trying to get fuel, if he was coming to just go into a parking area, if he was stationary and just went up, we just don't know at this point."

Investigators are trying to obtain surveillance video from cameras on top of a nearby hanger to hopefully shed some light on exactly what led to the accident.

Pilots and aviation enthusiasts at the small airport came out to survey the scene.

Although the identity of the pilot has not been released pending notification of kin, many say they are all family and accidents like this one are a grim reminder of the risks in aviation.

Aircraft owner Kurt Norton says he always thinks about the level of risk associated with flying activity.

"You feel for the family" said Norton. "You pray that you know they're able to accept the loss. It is a dangerous endeavor. It is a serious endeavour and there is loss of life."

According to the Corona Municipal Airport's website, the airport operates from dawn to dusk and is strictly a recreational airport with no commercials flights.

Investigators say at the time of the accident the area was very dark but plan on continuing their investigation and will be looking into all factors that may have played a part in the deadly fiery explosion.

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