February 18, 2010
Abram I. Bohrer

The crash of a corporate helicopter has claimed the life of Seattle businessman Thomas J. Stewart, his wife, young daughter and two others.

Stewart was founder and chief executive of Service Group of America, a company that specializes in real-estate and food services. His company owned the helicopter.

“The impact was horrific. There was debris everywhere,” said Maricopa County Sheriff’s spokeswoman Lindsey Smith. “The plane is literally in pieces.”

According to emergency calls made from the scene, Smith said there were reports of smoke, loud noises and pieces falling from the helicopter as it went down.

“The indications are there were some mechanical issues going on,” Smith said. She said the helicopter crashed in a wash that is about 100 feet wide, with houses on either side.

Witnesses reporting hearing “an engine cutting out” overhead in the moments before the crash.By the time help arrived, the helicopter was in flames.

Investigators with the Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board were headed to the crash scene and investigating.