Update - Deadly helicopter crash occurs in quiet neighborhood near Maplewood Nature Center

The charred remains of a helicopter could be seen being loaded onto a tow truck Wednesday afternoon.

The helicopter crashed into a detached garage on the 2700 block of Seventh Street in Maplewood around 8:15 a.m. Wednesday.

Vehicles from several local law enforcement and fire departments blocked off access to East Seventh St. near the Maplewood Nature Center after a helicopter crash June 19.

Michael Kramer, of St. Charles, Minn., ID'ed as pilot who perished

A helicopter under contract with the Metropolitan Mosquito Control District plummeted into a Maplewood resident's detached garage on the 2700 block of East Seventh Street near the Maplewood Nature Center this morning around 8:15 a.m., according to authorities.

The helicopter was piloted by one person, who died in the crash.

At an afternoon press conference, Maplewood Acting Police Chief Dave Kvam said the pilot is believed to be 44-year-old Michael Kramer of St. Charles, Minn.

Maplewood police, fire and emergency medical service vehicles, Oakdale fire trucks, Ramsey County sheriff's deputies, Minnesota state troopers and representatives from the Federal Aviation Administration all rushed to the scene.

The National Transportation Safety Board will lead the investigation into the crash. At the afternoon press conference, NTSB Senior Air Safety Investigator Aaron Sauer expressed condolences on behalf of the board.

"We extend our condolences to the friends and family that have been affected by this tragedy," he said.

Sauer said the helicopter that crashed was a Bell 47 contracted by Scott's Helicopter Services based out of Le Sueur, Minn.

Recovery services were being conducted as of Wednesday afternoon, Sauer said, adding that the helicopter will be transported to a secure location so that he and his team can examine it. Wreckage from the fiery crash could be seen being loaded onto a tow truck on Wednesday afternoon.

Investigators had already photographed the site of the crash and gathered statements from witnesses, Sauer said, and more data will need to be gathered, including weather-related information. Sauer said an autopsy and toxicology report will also be requested, and that the board will be reviewing the pilot's flying experience and aircraft records.

It could take up to six months to a year to determine the cause of the crash, Sauer said.

"I cannot speculate on the cause of the crash at this time," he explained.

Sauer said the contracted helicopter had picked up a chemical treatment from the MMCD around 8 a.m. and the crash occurred roughly 15 minutes later.

According to the MMCD, the soil bacterium treatment is applied to ponds, wetlands and areas of standing water to prevent mosquito larvae from reaching adulthood.

Helicopters performing this kind of application generally fly at much lower altitudes and airspeeds than other aircraft, Sauer said.

A GPS device was recovered from the aircraft and will be examined to potentially track information on the helicopter's location and speed leading up to the crash, Sauer added.

Jim Stark, executive director for the Metropolitan Mosquito Control District, echoed Sauer's condolences.

"This is a very, very said day for us," Stark said.

Stark said his agency has seen four similar crash-related incidents in the past 25 years.

Witnesses heard 'loud boom'

Oakdale Fire Chief Jeff Anderson said the department responded due to a mutual aid agreement between the two cities, and covered diverted emergency calls from Maplewood while Maplewood firefighters responded to the crash site.

Reports say the crash ignited 20- to 30-foot-high flames that consumed the garage, which is still standing.

Certified veterinary technician Sue Jex, who works at nearby Century Animal Clinic, said she and a coworker pulled up to work just before 8 a.m. and saw a helicopter flying "lower than normal" in the area.

Jex was in the clinic's back room when the crash occurred. "I heard a loud boom and felt the room shake," Jex said.

Jex and her coworker hurried outside to investigate, and they were met by another man parked in the lot who said he'd witnessed the crash. He pointed out the smoke coming from the crash site. Jex said the three saw the garage on fire, but did not see the remains of the helicopter itself.

"It was quite traumatizing," Jex said.

The Maplewood Nature Center was open as of Wednesday afternoon, with access available from Mayhill Road, just north of the scene of the accident. A maintenance worker at the nature center reportedly witnessed the crash.  

Neighbors just a couple blocks away said they heard wailing sirens in the area, but did not hear a crash. Closer residents reported hearing a whirring sound before the helicopter nose-dived into the garage.

This report is developing. Check back at www.lillienews.com for more breaking news.

Johanna Holub can be reached at jholub@lillienews.com or at 651-748-7814.
Alex Holmquist contributed to this report.

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