WAVY’s John Massey: Seattle pilot likely had “very few options”

PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — Chopper 10 Pilot John Massey weighed in on Tuesday’s tragedy in Seattle, where a pilot and photojournalist lost their lives in a fiery helicopter crash.

When John Massey talks from Chopper 10, his tone is reassuring; like those brief descriptions of what you’re seeing on the flight home at 30,000 feet. The captain’s “I’ve been doing this longer than you’ve been alive” tone takes over and puts a white-knuckle flyer at ease.

A few moments after the crash, Massey leaned on his breadth of experience in the air while talking about what happened. Moments after lifting off from the helipad at KOMO-TV,  the Eurocopter AS 350  crashed in ball of flames onto the street below shortly after refueling.

Chopper 10 Pilot John Massey
Chopper 10 Pilot John Massey

Related Coverage: Investigators comb scene of deadly chopper crash

Massey was sad for the loss  on the West Coast. He didn’t personally know 59-year-old Gary Pfitzner or photographer, 62-year-old Bill Strothman, but there’s a bond by occupation.

“The broadcast pilots community is a small community,” he said. “It’s always devastating to hear of these types of accidents.”

The National Transportation Safety Board says all potential causes of the crash are under investigation, and Massey refused to speculate on what went wrong. He did talk about the roof location of the helipad, and how a pilot has “very little room for error” when taking off from such a location.

“You have to be very skilled as a pilot. It’s a not a job for the inexperienced,” he said. “If you have an emergency at high altitude and low airspeed, it’s the most dangerous position to be in.”

Massey said the NTSB will comb through the aircraft’s maintenance records and pilot’s medical history before making a final determination, which could take months. He would only speculate that “something happened” suddenly just after lift-off.

“If they had a mechanical failure, you have very few options,” he said.

Massey has flown the Eurocopter AS 350 before, and said it’s a “very good aircraft.” He likened flying different helicopters to “driving different cars. Each one has different handling characteristics,” he said.

Chopper 10 has been Massey’s professional home since 2000 and has flown for more than three decades. Last year, he underwent a life-saving liver transplant, and he hopes to return to the skies as soon as the FAA clears him to fly.

Reflections of his own performance in the cockpit took over the final part of our conversation.

“Every maneuver you do is a trained maneuver. If you don’t, you will put yourself in a situation from which you can’t recover,” he said. “I’ve been known to get on people who don’t follow my directions. I’m responsible for my passengers.”

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