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4 Killed In TV News Helicopter Collision

Four people died today when two TV news helicopters collided while covering a police pursuit in central Phoenix.

Now, the man arrested in connection with the police pursuit has been identified and booked into jail.

Police say 23-year-old Christopher Jones has a criminal record and is on parole.

Jones was booked into jail late tonight on two counts of vehicle theft, four counts of aggravated assault on a police officer and one count of resisting arrest, with police saying other charges are expected to be filed later.

Earlier today, Phoenix Police Chief Jack Harris suggested that the suspect could be held responsible for any of the deaths from this helicopter crash.

The helicopters from KNXV (Channel 15) and KTVK (Channel 3) were covering the police pursuit of a work truck around noon today.

Just before the collision, the driver had jumped out of the nearly disabled flatbed pickup and carjacked another truck.

The man later identified as Jones was taken into custody by a SWAT team after barricading himself inside a house.

The helicopters collided in midair over Steele Indian School Park around 12:40 p.m. while filming the pursuit for Channels 3 and 15, reports CBS News affiliate station KPHO-TV in Phoenix.

The two choppers came down on the grass lawn in front of a boarded-up church at the park. Firefighters swarmed to the area as thick black smoke rose from the scene. No one on the ground was hurt.

TV viewers did not actually witness the accident because cameras aboard both aircraft were pointed at the ground. But they saw video from one of the helicopters break up and begin to spin before the station abruptly switched to the studio.

Killed on board the KTVK chopper were pilot Scott Bowerbank and photographer Jim Cox. Reporter Craig Smith and photographer Rick Krolak were aboard the KNXV aircraft, the stations reported.

Smith, who was among the dead, was reporting live as police chased a man driving a flatbed truck who had fled a traffic stop. The man was driving erratically, hitting several cars and driving on the sidewalk at times.

Police had blown out the truck's tires, and the man eventually parked it, then carjacked a pickup truck nearby.

Just before the picture broke up, Smith said, "Oh geez!"

The station then switched to the studio and briefly showed regular programming, a soap opera, before announcing that the helicopter had crashed.

Police Chief Jack Harris suggested Jones could be charged in connection with the collision.

"I believe you will want to talk to investigators, but I think he will be held responsible for any of the deaths from this tragedy," Harris told reporters at the scene. He did not elaborate.

A Federal Aviation Administration investigator was on the scene Friday and National Transportation Safety Board investigators were expected to come in Saturday, Tranter said.

Rick Gotchie, an air conditioning contractor, was working nearby when he noticed the helicopters overhead. He said they began circling closer as he continued watching, and one appeared to get too close to the other.

"I kept saying 'Go lower, go lower,' but he didn't," Gotchie said. "It was like a vacuum. They just got sucked into each other, and they both exploded and pieces were flying everywhere."

He said he ran to the crash site, but "no one got out."

FAA spokesman Ian Gregor said the pilots of the five news helicopters and one police chopper over the chase were not talking to air traffic controllers at the time, which is normal.

"Typically air traffic controllers clear helicopters into an area where they can cover a chase like this," Gregor said. "Once they are in the area, the pilots themselves are responsible for keeping themselves separated from other aircraft."

Pilots generally use a dedicated radio frequency to talk to each other and maintain their positions, Gregor said.

"There is a high degree of coordination," Gregor said. "To fly for a TV station you have to have a commercial rating, which means more (flight hours), more training."

Barbara Cochran, president of the Radio-Television News Directors Association in Washington, said the group does not track fatalities among helicopter news pilots, but she could not recall another example of two news choppers colliding while covering a story.

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