VIDEO: Moments after Williamsburg helicopter crash, latest updates on July 8 crash

srobertsjr@vagazette.com

The City of Williamsburg released a video showing the moments after the July 8 helicopter crash in Bristol Commons.

The nearly 50-minute video begins minutes after the crash and shows the neighborhood being engulfed in gray smoke. The city attorney’s office released the video in its full length to The Virginia Gazette after a Freedom of Information Act Request.

The city also released a final ruling on the cause of the fire and information on the extent of its fire rescue operations on July 8 as a result of a Virginia Gazette request.

Williamsburg Fire Department Fire Marshall Cary Middlebrook ruled the fire was a result of the helicopter crash.

“After the helicopter crashed into the complex,” the report says, “the building caught fire, spreading to other adjacent units contained within the complex.”

Two people died in the crash, helicopter pilot Henry Schwarz, 85, of Alexandria, and longtime Bristol Commons resident Jean Lonchak Danylko, 91.

A preliminary report by the National Transportation Safety Board on the crash indicates the helicopter fell from the sky at a rate of nearly 2 miles per minute.

As first responders arrived in the neighborhood both police and firefighters said they saw a “dark column of smoke visible from Richmond Road,” according to the report.

Nearly 11,600 square feet of living space between 10 units in the complex was rendered uninhabitable between the crash, the fire and firefighters’ efforts to extinguish the blaze, the report says.

The residential complex did not have a fire suppression sprinkler system, although every unit had smoke alarms, according to the report.

One witness text messaged Williamsburg Fire Department Deputy Chief Larry Snyder that she was riding her bicycle when “a white, what looked to be private helicopter flew right above our heads and then suddenly turned, went sideways and dropped in elevation behind the old dorms. I instantly knew it was crashing,” according to the report.

Water pressure in the area was increased during the fire by the water treatment plant, and firefighters did not use fire-suppressing foam on the structure until overhaul operations had begun, the report says.

Damage at the structure was significant. The the fire burned from the first floor through to the roof in parts of the complex. Significant fire damage was noted in the area immediately surrounding the aircraft, according to the report.

Between 50 and 60 percent of the roof of the structure was destroyed in the fire.

On July 31, Belfor Property Restoration, the company hired to save victims’ personal belongings, acquired a demolition permit for the complex, according to information provided by the City of Williamsburg Codes and Compliance department.

The permit allows engineers to demolish burned materials and interior finishes to determine which walls and floors are salvageable, according to the permit.

While the recent release of information from the city provides greater detail on the crash, the NTSB has released no further details since the release of its preliminary report.

Investigations can take months and it’s unlikely this will be resolved soon, according to NTSB spokesman Peter Knudson.

Disclosure: The Virginia Gazette has edited the video for length and muted the sound.

Roberts can be reached at 757-604-1329 or on Twitter @SPRobertsJr.

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