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Helicopter Slams into San Jose Office Tower; One Dead

January 28, 1994

SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) _ A helicopter helping move heavy equipment crashed into a 13-story office tower today and exploded, setting the top floor on fire and killing the pilot, authorities said.

The top floor was unoccupied and filled with equipment. Managers for the First American Title building had advised people to stay out of the top floors while air-conditioning equipment on the roof was being cleaned, a tenant said.

Four men working on the roof at the time of the 7:40 a.m. crash escaped unharmed. One called the pilot, who was not immediately identified, a hero.

″I think he knew he had lost it and was trying to minimize the damage,″ said Ron Bilyeu, one of three men cleaning the equipment. The fourth man was a spotter for the helicopter.

″If you crash it into the side of the building, it would have been more than the pilot,″ Bilyeu said.

Parts of the chopper rained onto the street below. The building fire burned for about 1 1/2 hours, said fire Battalion Chief Mike Burtch.

The men on the roof had tried to rescue the pilot from his burning chopper.

″I ran down and got a fire extinguisher and one of the other guys from the (pilot’s) company grabbed a fire extinguisher, and we both ran up and we tried to save him,″ said Ron Preston, who worked for the air-conditioning contractor, Air Com Mechanical Inc. in Santa Clara. ″We couldn’t because the heat was just too intense.″

Parveen Patel, owner of a cafeteria on the building’s third floor, said building management had advised people who work on the top few floors not to come to work while the cleaning was under way.

Patel said she heard the crash and thought it was the equipment falling.

″Then the guy who was with the air-conditioning company ran down and told everybody to get out and the fire alarm went off, too,″ she said.

The Sikorsky S-58, a twin-engine turbo-powered single-rotor helicopter, belonged to locally based Air One.

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