Family, friends say goodbye to helicopter crash victim

March 25, 2014

By Peter Clark

komo tv photo Pilot Gary Pfitzner, of Issaquah, was killed when his KOMO helicopter crashed March 18, also killing photojournalist Bill Strothman.

KOMO TV photo
Pilot Gary Pfitzner, of Issaquah, was killed when his KOMO helicopter crashed March 18, also killing photojournalist Bill Strothman.

Hundreds of family members and friends gathered March 22 for the funeral of Gary Pfitzner, one of two men who died in a fiery helicopter crash near the Space Needle last week.

Pfitzner, 59, was the pilot for the KOMO-TV helicopter, which crashed onto Broad Street outside Fisher Plaza on March 18. Veteran Seattle photojournalist Bill Strothman, 62, of Bothell, was also killed.

Pfitzner lived in Issaquah with his wife Delen Castellano and sons Christopher and Brandon. Not only a contracted helicopter pilot, he also worked at The Boeing Co. for 35 years as a technical analyst. There, he developed three patents, which sent him to Germany, Spain, Italy and Japan.

“What I will miss the most is his sense of humor,” Castellano said in the funeral program from Flintoft’s Funeral Home.

She said everyone liked Pfitzner. She said he never left for work without telling her he loved her and kissing her goodbye.

Originally from Spain, Castellano said Pfitzner loved her family, particularly how welcoming they were.

“Gary wants to go to Spain to spend time with my Dad and have my mom spoil him rotten,” she said in the program.

“My dad is just the most amazing guy,” Christopher said in the program. “Did you ever know anyone who was 59 and was that amazing?”

Pfitzner was one of seven siblings. Collectively, they expressed pride in Pfitzner to Flintoft’s and hinted at his joking charisma.

“We bragged that our brother climbed Mount Rainier and Mount Baker,” the family said. “We all pointed to the KIRO traffic copter or KOMO new copter and said, ‘That’s my brother Gary flying that copter.’ Gary not only gave us rides in helicopters, but also enjoyed hovering over our houses, which made us look like a news event, or flashing his lights as he flew by.”

KOMO News Anchor Molly Shen said Pfitzner had been the morning helicopter pilot for years.

“He was just a really great guy,” Shen said in a phone interview the day of the crash. “Just the type of guy that you want to work with. A great guy in general.”

“I’m just still reeling,” she said about the early morning accident. “In the dark mornings, he would always have a smile on his face.”

Brother Mark Pfitzner released a statement to the media, but he did not return calls for further comment.

“He took great care of his brothers and sisters,” the statement read. “He loved to fly. He loved to scuba and skydive. He loved adventure and travel.”

Shen echoed these remarks.

“The fact that he would continue waking up early in the morning for us shows how much he liked to fly,” she said. “He died doing what he loved.”

The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating what caused the crash. Crews sifted through the wreckage to find intact components.

“A lot of those parts and pieces are simply gone,” said Dennis Hogenson, acting deputy chief of the National Transportation Safety Board Western Pacific Region.

He said a possibility exists that crews could not pinpoint the nature of any mechanical issue — if that’s what caused the accident — because of the extent of the damage. But he was optimistic that wouldn’t happen.

“I’m confident that we’re going to figure this out,” Hogenson said.


Seattle Times Reporter Mike Baker contributed to this story.

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