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2 men killed in North Salt Lake helicopter crash had 'huge passion' for flying

NORTH SALT LAKE — Many questions remain unanswered after a helicopter crashed into a building in North Salt Lake on Tuesday, killing two men.

But this much is clear: Claus Hauer and Bruce Orr died doing what they loved.

"They had a huge passion for aviation, a huge following of people here at the airport and other airports. A lot of people knew who they were," said Chris Volzer, who oversees incoming and departing aircraft at Skypark Airport in Woods Cross. "Probably some of the nicest people, good-hearted people."

But their love for flying and experience with aircraft makes it harder for those who know them to understand what went wrong.

"We're in a dazed state. Surreal. We're waiting for information," Orr's son Brian Orr said Wednesday. "Today is a day of walking around not knowing what to do."

The two men took off from Skypark Airport in a Robinson R-44 helicopter and crashed onto the roof of a building at 501 W. 900 North just before 2 p.m, according to Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Allen Kenitzer.

Ben Tidswell, the pilot for KSL Chopper 5 and "close personal friend" of Hauer and Orr, was sitting in his helicopter at the airport when he saw the helicopter fly by, followed by sounds of mechanical failure.

"I watched the helicopter pass by in front of me then go out of sight behind some buildings, and I could still hear the helicopter flying," Tidswell said. "Then I heard 'wink, wink, wink,' and then nothing at all. The engine noise went away; the rotor blade noise went away. There was no noise at all. … Generally, if the sound goes away, that's a problem."

Seconds later, Tidswell's mechanic opened the helicopter door and told him he had seen the helicopter break apart midflight.

"So we jumped in cars and went over there and looked at all the wreckage sitting everywhere," Tidswell said.

Other witnesses also reported seeing the aircraft fall apart in the sky.

Volzer said the two men were well-known among local aviators, who mourn their deaths.

"It's a very tight community," he said. "If anything happens, good or bad, it spreads fast because it's a very, very close community."

The bodies of Hauer and Orr were pulled from the wreckage Tuesday night, according to North Salt Lake police. No one on the ground was injured, but the building sustained significant damage.

On Wednesday, the flight's purpose, the original condition of the aircraft and the cause of the crash were all unclear.

"I don't think it's worth speculating," Tidswell said. "I would say this: It is incredibly rare for any kind of aircraft, whether it be helicopter or fixed-wing, to break up in flight like that. There's going to be a lot of questions that need to be answered."

The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the crash in conjunction with the Federal Aviation Administration and the helicopter's manufacturer. Investigators were taking GPS plots of the wreckage and gathering witness statements Wednesday, according to National Transportation Safety Board spokesman Andrew Swick.

Swick said a preliminary report will be completed within a week with basic information and witness statements. But a final report with the official determination of what caused the crash could take as long as 18 months to complete, he said.

Investigators are considering elements such as weather, human factors, safety of flight, maintenance backgrounds and the pilot's experience, Swick said.

"Right now, we're just gathering those facts," he said. "Witness statements are coming in. Once we look at those, we'll assess what we have."

Hauer, of Sandy, was a pilot of more than 30 years and was licensed to fly both helicopters and planes. He was a chopper pilot for KUTV from 2002 to 2005.

In 1999, Hauer was piloting a single-engine Cessna Sparrowhawk 152 as a flight instructor with a student. During the flight, the plane began to sputter and Hauer noticed the fuel gauge drop rapidly. He then took over control of the plane and crash landed it in a tree in Murray, avoiding busy street traffic nearby.

The student credited Hauer with avoiding what could have been a disastrous crash, allowing both men to walk away uninjured.

Orr, 63, of Tooele, was a helicopter mechanic and former LDS bishop. Richard Orr spoke of his father's long-held passion for working with aircraft.

"He would take me into work, and I'd get to hang out with him," Richard Orr said. "Some of my earliest memories are being in airplanes."

Brian Orr highlighted his father's combined love for faith, family and flying.

"My father was an incredible, faithful, loving man. He loved his family, church and work. He is survived by his wonderful wife and five children, seven brothers and sisters, his mother, and 18 grandchildren," Brian Orr said.

"He was the rock in the cornerstone of our family," he said. "He was there for us when we needed him to give advice. He served in his church callings faithfully and with all his heart. He will be sorely missed, and we appreciate our faith in knowing we will see him again."

Contributing: Nicole Vowell, Rich Piatt

Email: mjacobsen@deseretnews.com, Twitter: MorganEJacobsen