(Adds byline, details about the crash)
By Bryan Cohen
SEATTLE, March 18 (Reuters) - A news helicopter crashed and burst into flames in downtown Seattle on Tuesday, killing two people on board and setting cars on fire in a popular tourist area near the Space Needle, police and fire officials said.
The chopper appears to have fallen to the street during an attempt to take off from a helipad atop a local television news station located a short distance from the Space Needle, Seattle Fire Department spokesman Kyle Moore told reporters.
Two people were found dead in the wreckage of the helicopter when emergency responders arrived at the scene. The occupants of three vehicles that had caught fire in the street following the crash managed to get out of their vehicles, although one was in critical condition, Moore said.
Local television station KOMO, an ABC affiliate, said the fallen aircraft was one of its news helicopters.
"KOMO chopper crash appears to have taken lives of our colleagues on board," Keith Eldridge, a reporter and anchor with the station, said on his Twitter page.
The crash, which left burning helicopter fuel streaming down the street, occurred not far from Seattle's famed Space Needle, located in a popular tourist area that also hosts a children's museum and the Pacific Science Center.
Photos posted online by KOMO showed bright flames and towering smoke rising from cars at the scene.
Video news footage after the fire had been extinguished showed a pickup truck and a compact car, both charred and with their windows blown out amid fire retardant foam in the street.
'HANGING ON TO LIFE'
Emergency responders set up a tent over the burned frame of the helicopter with the two dead occupants inside, and the tail of the chopper had been flung several feet away.
A 37-year-old man, who was on fire, crawled out of one car and was transported in critical condition to a local hospital, said Moore, who added that the man had burns over 50 percent of his body.
"That person is hanging on to life," he said.
A woman who walked away from another vehicle that was burned in the crash made her way to a local police station and appeared to be in good shape, he said.
Witnesses said the driver of the pickup truck walked to a nearby McDonald's restaurant, but firefighters have not been able to locate him, Moore said.
"We want to make sure that individual is OK," he said.
The National Transportation Safety Board and the Federal Aviation Administration will investigate the crash, said Seattle police spokeswoman, Detective Renee Witt, who added that her agency would not probe the crash.
Authorities did not immediately release the identities of those who were killed.
"The engine (of the chopper) made a pretty deep noise ... and about two seconds after that I heard the boom," witness Daniel Gonzalez told KOMO. (Additional reporting by Jonathan Kaminsky in Olympia, Wash.; Writing by Alex Dobuzinskis; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Bernadette Baum)