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TV COPTERS CRASH IN MIDAIR, KILLING 4

They were covering a police chase in Phoenix.

Two news helicopters covering a police chase on live television collided and crashed to the ground Friday, killing all four people on board.

Both helicopters went down in a park in central Phoenix and caught fire. No one on the ground was hurt.

TV viewers did not actually witness the accident because cameras aboard both aircraft were pointed at the ground. But they saw video from one of the helicopters break up and begin to spin before the station abruptly switched to the studio.

TV station KNXV reported that it operated one of the choppers. The other was from KTVK. A pilot and photographer aboard each chopper were killed.

KNXV reporter Craig Smith, who was among the dead, was reporting live as police chased a man driving a construction truck who had fled a traffic stop. The man was driving erratically, hitting several cars and driving on the sidewalk at times.

Police had blown the truck's tires, and the man eventually parked it, then carjacked another vehicle nearby.

Just before the picture broke up, Smith said, "Oh geez!"

The station then switched to the studio and briefly showed regular programming, a soap opera, before announcing that the helicopter had crashed.

The man fleeing police was later taken into custody by a SWAT team after barricading himself inside a house, police said. Police Chief Jack Harris suggested he could be charged in connection with the collision. He did not elaborate.

Rick Gotchie, an air conditioning contractor, was working nearby when he noticed the helicopters overhead. He said they began circling closer as he continued watching, and one appeared to get too close to the other.

"It was like a vacuum. They just got sucked into each other, and they both exploded and pieces were flying everywhere," he said.

Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Ian Gregor said the pilots of the five news helicopters and one police chopper over the chase were not talking to air traffic controllers at the time of the collision, which is normal.

"Typically air traffic controllers clear helicopters into an area where they can cover a chase like this," Gregor said. "Once they are in the area, the pilots themselves are responsible for keeping themselves separated from other aircraft."

Killed on board the KTVK chopper were pilot Scott Bowerbank and photographer Jim Cox. Smith and photographer Rick Krolak were aboard the KNXV aircraft, the stations reported.

Barbara Cochran, president of the Radio-Television News Directors Association in Washington, said she could not recall another example of two news choppers colliding while covering a story.

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