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‘It was bad;’ witness recounts fiery, deadly helicopter crash

Bonnet Carre helicopter crash aftermath
Published: Dec. 14, 2021 at 9:14 PM CST
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NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - Those traveling across the Bonnet Carre spillway said it happened quickly.

“We happened to see a helicopter flying low. It was going pretty fast. I didn’t understand it at the time,” said Joseph James Jr.

The next thing they knew, Joseph James Jr. and his wife saw a fiery explosion about a mile in front of them.

“I guess they tried to make an emergency landing on the spillway… it was bad...bodies on the spillway. They had people flagging down cars trying to get a fire extinguisher. It looked like there were still people in the helicopter engulfed in flames. It was bad,” said James.

READ MORE Helicopter crashes into I-10 at Bonnet Carre; pilot confirmed dead, LSP says

That was only the beginning of multiple hours of traffic slowdowns and snarl-ups across the area as thousands of drivers were diverted to other routes. Driving right by the wreckage minutes after the crash, James said he’d be surprised if there were any survivors.

“Praying for everyone involved,” he said.

Hours after that crash, the FAA confirmed the helicopter’s sole pilot on board was killed.

READ MORE DOTD: Bonnet Carre to remain closed until 2 a.m.; Entergy works to repair lines

“You are looking at a crash of a Bell 407 over the Bonnet Carre Spillway, which at the time had conditions of low visibility, fog, low ceiling, and it’s presumed they were doing powerline inspection work,” said Daniel Watson.

Longtime helicopter pilot Daniel Watson said the aviation community will mourn this loss. He said considering how the helicopter crashed, he suspects the helicopter was inspecting powerlines at the time.

“Someone probably hit a wire. When you have engine failure, you’d look for...I’m almost certain you’d see pop-out floats and you would look for solid ground to land on, which is why I think the aircraft ended up over the interstate, but that’s not an engine failure type of crash, that’s a sudden and immediate type of crash,” said Watson.

The severity and suddenness of that crash, however, was a sight that’s hard to shake.

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