Reporting Summer Knowles
MIAMI (CBS4) – Miami-Dade police have identified two men who were killed in a fiery helicopter crash in Southwest Miami-Dade while investigators with the National Transportation Safety Board and Miami-Dade’s Homicide Bureau try to figure out why the chopper fell out of the sky Wednesday afternoon.
The pilot was Mark Palmieri, 53, and his passenger was 53-year old Ross Allan. Allan was a co-pilot for Miami-Dade Fire Rescue for Air Rescue North out of Opa-locka Fire Rescue.
Miami-Dade Fire Rescue Chief Dave Downey wrote in a statement: “The Miami-Dade Fire Rescue Department is deeply saddened to announce the sudden death of one of our members, Fire Department Helicopter Co-Pilot Ross Allan, on Wednesday, April 3, 2013. Ross was hired as an Aircraft Technician in September of 1996 and became a Helicopter Co-Pilot in March of 2007. He will be sorely missed by all MDFR members especially those at the Air Rescue Bureau who remain shocked by this tragic and unexpected loss.”
Both men died when their Robinson R-44 aircraft slammed into a palm tree in a parking lot along Southwest 122 Avenue and Southwest 128 Street shortly after take-off from Tamiami Airport about two miles away.
The helicopter was owned and operated by Bravo Helicopters of Miami. Palmieri was the owner of Bravo Helicopters.
NTSB investigators said the chopper was on a maintenance test flight because it had recently been worked on.
“Meaning that maintenance was done on the aircraft that requires a test flight after it’s completed,” Air Safety Investigator Patrick Murray said. “The initial report I got was that there were birds in the area and there was a problem with the tail rotor.”
That tail rotor landed more than a hundred feet away from the rest of the helicopter.
Murray said investigators will also take into account witness statements as part of the investigation. Witnesses said they heard an explosion and the helicopter started falling apart before it hit the ground.
William Barraga sells hotdogs along SW 128 Ave. He said something didn’t sound right just before the chopper went down.
“I hear engine problems. You hear thump, thump, thump, thump, thump. I’m selling a hot dog and I seen the thing explode,” said William Barraga.
Several people were captured on cell phone video trying to help the men inside the crippled chopper.
“Some people grabbed the fire extinguishers from the gym and other places and started turning off the fire. I just ran inside and started crying,” said Julia Senior.
Senior runs a gym just feet from where the aircraft went down.
“I feel pieces falling down,” she said. “Thirty seconds after that, right in front of me, the helicopter crashes right in top of the palm tree.”
“The pilot had the belt (seat belt) and I couldn’t pull off the belt, so I told the people I need something to cut the belt,” said Yoldany Gacomino. “Somebody brought me something and I cut the belt.”
Gacomino said he and the others were eventually able to pull Palmieri and Allan out.
The NTSB’s preliminary report is expected to take 10 to 15 days. A final write up will be complete in six to nine months.