Deaths in US TV helicopter crash (video)

( BBC ) - Four people have died after two helicopters, owned by rival US television channels, collided in mid-air while covering a car chase.

Both helicopters went down in Steele Indian School Park in Phoenix, Arizona, and caught fire as they were covering the police pursuit of a pick-up truck.

Everyone on board the two craft was killed. No-one on the ground was hurt.

Within moments of the collision, other TV news helicopters were broadcasting pictures of the burning wreckage.

Viewers did not see the accident as both cameras were pointed towards the ground.

As a driver led police on a high-speed chase through Phoenix, helicopters from five local TV stations were covering the incident live.

I looked up and I see this 'boom,' and I see one of the helicopters coming down

The driver jumped a set of traffic lights, hit several cars and then drove along the pavement before abandoning his vehicle and car-jacking another.

As the cameras zoomed in on the action, KNXV news reporter Craig Smith, who died in the collision, said "Oh geez!" and the screen went blank.

Viewers caught a jumble of broken images before the stations cut back to the studio.

Mary Lewis, who saw the incident, said: "I looked up and I see this 'boom,' and I see one of the helicopters coming down, and I said 'Oh my God'."

The two helicopters crashed to earth near a boarded-up church in Steele Indian School Park.

Fire-fighters rushed to the scene as thick, black smoke rose from the burning wreckage.

The driver involved in the car chase was later detained by police after he had barricaded himself inside a house.

The local TV station KNXV, the ABC affiliate in Phoenix, said it owned one of the helicopters while the other was operated by the local independent channel, KTVK.

Journalists aboard the helicopter of a local Fox channel, KSAZ, said the two aircraft had been flying below two others from Channel 12 News and KPHO, a CBS affiliate, when they collided.

The president of the Radio Television News Directors Association, Barbara Cochran, said she could not recall a previous incidence of two news helicopters colliding whilst covering a story.

"These pilots, they are very professional. They combine the skills of pilots and skills as journalists," she told the Associated Press.

The BBC's David Willis in Los Angeles says police pursuits are fertile material for many US TV stations and have proved popular with viewers.

In Los Angeles, a service exists whereby viewers, in return for a monthly subscription, are paged every time a pursuit is being shown.

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