Two aboard killed when copter crashes into home


By Marie Rohde, Greg Borowski and Meg Jones

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel



KENOSHA, Wis. — A helicopter carrying two people crashed into a Kenosha family’s home early Sunday, the rotor blades slicing through the two-story structure like a loaf of bread as the aircraft tumbled down a stairway before blowing out the front door and coming to rest on a neighbor’s driveway.

While the two helicopter passengers were killed, a couple and their three young children miraculously survived unharmed as the cart-wheeling wreckage blew their bedroom doors off the hinges just before dawn.

"It was God’s hand in this," said Carla Wilson, who was awakened by the crash around 5:30 a.m.

As Wilson, her husband, Noel, and children, 9, 6, and 2, peered out from their second-story bedrooms on either side of the stairway they looked up to see a huge hole in their roof. Wilson said the helicopter took off the railing of the stairs leading downstairs and exited through the front of the house, narrowly missing them as they slept in their beds.

Wilson added, "My heart goes out to those who were on the helicopter."

Killed in the crash were Alan J. Sapko, 54, a businessman, and Joanne Anzalone. They were pronounced dead at the scene.

Witnesses reported hearing the helicopter’s engine sputtering moments before the crash in the tree-lined subdivision about one mile south of Kenosha Regional Airport.

Gary Stielow, who lives about 100 yards away from the crash, woke up to the sounds of the helicopter in distress. With two hospitals nearby, Stielow said, he and his mother often hear the whump-whump-whump of Flight for Life helicopters.


This was different.

"The engine just didn’t sound right," Stielow said. "It was sputtering. It was at full power, but it was sputtering real bad. Then you just heard a loud boom."

Stielow looked at his clock: 5:37 a.m. By the time he ran to the house the Wilson family already had made it outside. Stielow could see the victims’ bodies on the ground and 12-foot flames shooting up from the helicopter engine.

Egrain Collazo, who lives next door to the Wilsons, said: "We heard the actual boom. We thought it was a car accident, and then we thought it was lightning."

Shortly before leaving for church late Sunday morning, Collazo surveyed the wreckage that littered the Wilsons’ lawn where white foam used by firefighters to douse the flames looked like melting snowbanks. Bricks, twisted pieces of metal, helicopter seats, glass and insulation were strewn about, and a small roof that had been over the Wilson family’s front door was lying upright on the grass. The tail of the helicopter and a mangled rotor blade were on a lawn across the street.

"This has really flipped us out," Collazo said. "If it had been 100 feet to the south, it would have been our house."

The helicopter was a Robinson R-44, which can hold up to four people, said Ed Malinowski, an air safety inspector for the National Transportation Safety Board. Malinowski didn’t think the helicopter had a "black box," which would provide details of the helicopter’s operating conditions at the time of the crash.



Fog blanketed the Kenosha area overnight, although conditions were improving at the time of the crash. At 5 a.m., visibility at the Kenosha airport was about half a mile, according to National Weather Service meteorologist Chris Franks. Half an hour later, when the helicopter fell out of the sky, visibility had improved to about three-quarters of a mile to a mile, Franks said.

The helicopter belonged to Midwest Aviation Services, a firm that offers charter services as well as flight training. Corey Reed, operations supervisor at the airport, said no flight plan was filed with the airport. Though not required, Reed said, it is recommended as a safety measure.

It was unclear whether the helicopter had recently taken off or was preparing to land.

Sapko was president of Sturtevant-based Sapko International Inc. Last year federal agents seized 234,500 pairs of jeans from Sapko International after receiving a tip that the company was bringing in jeans from overseas, taking off the tags and relabeling them with "made in the USA" tags, according to federal court documents filed in July. Neither Sapko nor the company was charged.

Meanwhile Wilson said she grieved for the crash victims but was grateful for the generosity and concern of her neighbors who have gathered clothes, gift cards, food and other necessities for the family. Her husband will take time off from his job at Abbott Industries while the family adjusts. Their insurance company had found them lodging elsewhere.

Wilson’s two sons will be back in school Monday — Nash Elementary School is about a half-block from where the crash occurred — because it is important to maintain a routine for the family, she said.


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