WILLIAMSBURG — At least one person is dead after a helicopter crashed into a Williamsburg townhouse complex on Sunday, sparking a blaze that heavily damaged a 10-unit building.
The crash happened shortly after 4:30 p.m. in the 1100 block of Settlement Drive at the Bristol Commons townhomes off Ironbound Road, across from William & Mary’s Dillard Complex.
The pilot was the only person on board the Robinson R44, a small four-seat helicopter, the Federal Aviation Administration confirmed via Twitter late Sunday.
The FAA is investigating the incident along with the National Transportation Safety Board, which will determine the probable cause of the crash.
Virginia State Police spokeswoman Sgt. Michelle Anaya confirmed that at least one person was killed. Anaya said the victim was not the pilot, and it was unknown whether the victim was a man or woman.
Several witnesses at the scene told WYDaily they saw the helicopter in distress shortly before the crash, which caused extensive damage to one of the complex’s buildings.
Paul Leslie, who lives in a building near the crash site, said he heard a helicopter come overhead that “basically didn’t sound right.”
Leslie said he witnessed the helicopter crash into the building. He then heard an explosion and saw the building catch fire.
“Everybody here responded very quickly to get people out of the building,” Leslie said, adding that at least one of the residents was away for the weekend.
Leslie said there are 10 units in building, and he and others banged on all the doors of all the townhomes to alert residents to get out of the building as quickly as possible.
Another resident, Brook Sweeney, who has lived in the complex since October, said he was watching TV when he heard a noise that he at first thought was a car accident.
“The way my house shook — it shook and shook,” Sweeney said. “It was like nothing I’d ever felt or heard before.”
Firefighters from James City County, Williamsburg and York County fought the blaze, which continued to smolder into the evening. Fire crews were expected to remain on the scene overnight to battle any hot spots in the wrecked building.
Several apparent parts from the helicopter were laid on a red tarp on the lawn in front of the damaged building and were briefly examined by investigators.
Williamsburg Police, William & Mary Police, James City County Police, Virginia State Police and the York-Poquoson Sheriff’s Office also responded to the crash.
Investigators are contacting local airports to determine what aircraft was in the air Sunday afternoon in order to develop a timeline for the crash, Anaya said.
The Red Cross is helping those displaced by the crash, and police are working to account for all residents of the building, Anaya said.
State police and other investigators are likely to be at the site for the next several days, Anaya said.
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