A military transport helicopter undergoing a flight check before it was to be added to the White House fleet crashed and burned Thursday at Sikorsky Aircraft, killing all four crew members.
Dozens of people working nearby and passing motorists watched in horror as the huge helicopter labored above the company’s airfield, then dropped straight to the ground.
“It did a back flip, and then there was a thick, black cloud of smoke. It went down so fast,” said John Nasufi, the owner of Stella’s Restaurant across the street from the plant. He was loading pizzas into a truck at the time.
The dead were all Sikorsky employees. Their identities were withheld pending notification of relatives.
The aircraft was to be assigned to a Marine unit at Quantico, Va., that provides support services for the White House, Sikorsky spokeswoman Gina McAllister said. The helicopter, however, would not have been used to carry the president.
The cause of the crash was not immediately known, McAllister said. No one on the ground was hurt.
The CH-53E, built by Sikorsky and known as the Super Stallion, is a three-engine, heavy-lift helicopter that can carry 58 people and is used by the Marines and Navy. A Super Stallion was used last year to rescue Air Force Capt. Scott O’Grady of Spokane, who was shot down over Bosnia and survived on the ground for six days before being rescued.