SEATTLE - KIRO radio reporter Paul Brendle, who usually reports on the traffic news, became news himself today as his helicopter crash-landed at the west end of Seward Park.
The chopper came down at 10:04 this morning in a grassy area just north of the entrance to the park.
Witnesses said Brendle staggered from the helicopter. He was treated at the scene and taken to Harborview Medical Center. He complained of back pains.
It was Brendle's fourth emergency landing - and third crash - in 11 years.
Immediately after today's crash-landing, Brendle telephoned his station to report the incident and said he had been flying at between 700 and 800 feet, headed to Bellevue from Boeing Field, when the engine suddenly started "popping."
He turned around and attempted to return to Boeing Field but the engine quit.
Brendle said he tried to auto-rotate, or glide, the 1981 Enstrom copter to near a swimming beach. But several sun bathers were there, so he had to land on the grass instead.
The helicopter lost its tail-rotor section and its fuselage cracked in half, behind the cockpit, when it landed. The left-side landing gear collapsed.
On the air, Brendle said the machine - valued at about $80,000 and owned by Puget Sound Helicopters - was a total loss.
It had been painted by the artist Leroy Nieman and Brendle frequently referred to it in his traffic reports as "Leroy."
Kelly Starr, visiting here from Chicago, said the chopper had passed about 20 feet above her. "I could see his face," she said, "but I didn't panic. It was an awful landing. It came down really hard. Then I panicked."
Two other witnesses, Roger Sandwick and Toni Weschler, were driving on Lake Washington Boulevard South when they saw the craft coming in very low from over Lake Washington.
"It seemed to be doing fine at first," Sandwick said. "But then I realized it was in trouble. It was obviously erratic. Then I saw a woman with a bicycle coming running up the bank, looking up at the helicopter, and we knew it was going to crash."
In Brendle's second helicopter accident, 10 years ago, his craft went out of control and plummeted upside down before he righted it at the last minute and crashed in a field near Kent. He and a passenger walked away from that crash, but he was hospitalized overnight.
In the first crash, in August 1982 near Lake Washington, the rear rotor froze, sending the craft into a plunge. Brendle and a passenger were unhurt.
Brendle was forced to land KIRO's new Hughes copter in a parking lot of the Newport Yacht Club in Bellevue on Jan. 28, 1985, after he heard strange engine noises.
Investigations attributed all three forced landings to mechanical failure.