2 confirmed dead in Lino Lakes helicopter crash

Lino Lakes helicopter crash
An investigator looks over the scene where a helicopter crashed in a field in Lino Lakes on Thursday.
Richard Tsong-Taatarii | Star Tribune via AP

Updated: 10:02 a.m. | Posted: 5:52 a.m.

Two people died when a helicopter erupted in "a large fireball" as it crashed into a field in a Twin Cities suburb, a sheriff's official said Friday.

The aircraft crashed near a residential area in Lino Lakes at about 5:30 p.m. on Thursday, Anoka County Sheriff's Cmdr. Paul Sommer said from the scene late Thursday. The crash happened in an open sod field, and left a trail of debris for several hundred yards.

"We can't identify much based on what remains in the field. It's basically charred up debris," Sommer said. "This is a horrible tragedy. I can't begin to describe what that scene looks like."

The Anoka County Sheriff's Office identified the pilot who died as a 48-year-old Minneapolis man and the passenger as a 47-year-old woman from Blaine. Their names are not being released because the family is still being notified.

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No one on the ground was hurt.

Witnesses reported seeing the helicopter experiencing some sort of mechanical trouble before the crash. Some described hearing a loud "pop" or "explosion." They said the helicopter's blade stopped turning and it dropped out of the sky. The sheriff's office said the scattering of debris suggest the helicopter began to break up before hitting the ground and bursting into flames.

Sommer said it didn't appear that the crash was caused by an entanglement with power lines, saying the helicopter was flying at a much higher altitude when it started to go down.

The sheriff's office identified the helicopter as a 1982 Fairchild Hiller FH-1100. Records show it had flown earlier in the day without problems. Authorities believe the fatal flight took off from Anoka County Airport in Blaine, which is less than 10 miles from the crash site.

The Federal Aviation Administration and National Transportation Safety Board will investigate the crash, according to FAA spokesperson Elizabeth Isham Cory. Authorities asked Lino Lakes residents to contact the police if they find any objects that could be debris from the aircraft.

Lino Lakes is about 17 miles north of downtown St. Paul.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.