5 Dead as Ferry Search Chopper Crashes

Five firefighters were killed on Thursday when their helicopter crashed on return from searching for missing passengers from the ferry disaster off the southwest coast.

The chopper crashed on the sidewalk in a densely populated area in downtown Gwangju around 11 a.m.

All five men on board including pilot Chung Sang-chul (52) were killed. An 18-year-old girl who stood at a bus stop nearby suffered minor burns.

The crash site is in a new residential district in Gwangju clustered with high-rise apartment buildings, schools and a shopping mall.

The helicopter crashed only 10 m from a middle school and one apartment block on the sidewalk of a four-lane road between them, narrowly averting a much bigger disaster.

A helicopter crashes on the sidewalk in Gwangju on Thursday. A helicopter crashes on the sidewalk in Gwangju on Thursday.

Witnesses said it looked as if the pilot tried to come down on the flower bed of the apartment complex to minimize damage.

A senior police officer said, "Considering the nearby buildings and terrain, it seems that the pilot chose the best possible site” to minimize the damage.

An Air Force officer said communication between the control tower and the chopper was normal for about three minutes after it took off from Gwangju Airport at 10:49 a.m. But it suddenly lost altitude and disappeared from the radar prior to the crash.

"An air traffic controller attempted to communicate with the pilot using an emergency frequency, but there was no response," he added.

englishnews@chosun.com / Jul. 18, 2014 09:39 KST