Josh Reyes and Rodrigo Arriaza
Daily Press (Newport News, Va.)
WILLIAMSBURG — A person died in a condominium building that caught fire after being hit by a helicopter Sunday.
The 10-unit building in the Bristol Commons neighborhood of Williamsburg was gutted by the fire, which still wasn’t deemed under control hours after the crash.
Virginia State Police said there was one confirmed fatality in the building, and search and rescue is still ongoing. The person who died was not the pilot of the helicopter, state police spokeswoman Michelle Anaya said. Other identifying information was not available.
The building in the 1100 block of Settlement Drive was hit around 4:42 p.m., according to Virginia State Police spokeswoman Corinne Geller.
Other details — including how the crash happened, other injuries or type of helicopter — were not available by press time.
Residents who saw and heard the crash said before state police released information that it was a small helicopter that hit the building.
As crews battled the fire, pieces of the helicopter were visible on what was left of the structure. A piece of the building or the helicopter even fell on a firefighter. Much of the building was destroyed or damaged, but it looked to be contained to the one building in the complex.
Crews worked for several hours after the call came in. Along with Williamsburg fire and police personnel, College of William and Mary police, state police and York County’s drone team were at the scene.
The College of William and Mary sent out an alert about the crash, calling it an “aviation incident.” It advised the incident happened near the school’s Dillard Complex and told people to avoid the area.
Ironbound Road, which cuts between the apartment complex and the Dillard Complex, was closed for a couple hours after the crash.
As crews responded, dozens of people gathered around the building to watch.
Brook Sweeney, who lives across the street from the building that caught fire, said the impact sounded like a car crash.
Before that, he said, “I was upstairs when I heard what sounded like a helicopter flying really low overhead. The whole house shook and then I just heard a loud ‘bam’ and the whole house was on fire.”
Afterward, he helped out some people who lived in the building, he said, giving them water, clothes if they needed them, and getting them away from the commotion of firefighters working the scene and the people watching.
Donald Johnson, who lives in an apartment in the building that was hit, said, “It was 10 feet away from me. I was downstairs on the first floor when that thing hit and I had never heard a noise like that in my life. I just walked out and looked and got out, I was afraid it would blow up.”
Peggy Weiss also lives in the neighborhood and said she saw a small, rickety-looking helicopter crash in between two buildings.
Police said multiple agencies were working to identify and locate the pilot of the helicopter.
Anaya said crews couldn’t go into the building still around 8:45 p.m. because of hot spots inside. She expected the investigation to continue up to three days.
She did not know how many were displaced, but said the Red Cross was assisting people.
The Federal Aviation Administration and National Transportation Safety Board were notified of the crash. The cause of the crash is under investigation.
Reyes can be reached by phone at 757-247-4692; Arriaza at 757-790-9313.
Reyes can be reached by phone at 757-247-4692 or on Twitter @jdauzreyes.
©2018 the Daily Press (Newport News, Va.)
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