MAPLEWOOD, Minn. (WCCO/AP) — A pilot was killed Wednesday when the helicopter he was flying to spray for mosquitoes crashed into the backyard of a Maplewood home.

Maplewood Police said they got calls about 8:15 a.m. that a helicopter flying low over a neighborhood a few miles east of St. Paul had crashed into the backyard of a private home. Firefighters who were first to arrive at the scene found the helicopter and a detached garage in flames.

The pilot – 44-year-old Michael Kramer, of St. Charles – was found dead at the scene, authorities said at an afternoon press conference.

No one was in the home or the garage at the time of the crash, and Maplewood’s acting Police Chief Dave Kvam said Kramer was alone in the helicopter.

“I heard a big noise and didn’t know what it was,” said Donna Basler, 70, who lives four houses from the crash site. “Then my neighbor called and said there’s a big fire.”

The crash and fire woke up everyone at  Hannah Phan’s slumber party.

“We didn’t know what happened,” she said. “We thought it was a plane. Then someone told us it was a helicopter.”

Firefighters quickly extinguished the flames, which did not spread to the house. The garage was damaged but was still standing.

Kvam said he had no immediate details about what might have caused the crash. He said the National Transportation Safety Board would lead the investigation.

Lt. Kerry Crotty of the Maplewood Police Department said the helicopter did not crash directly into the garage but that she believed several of its rotors struck the structure as it was crashing into the ground.

The helicopter, owned by Scott’s Helicopter Service in Le Sueur, had a contract with the Metropolitan Mosquito Control District to spray for mosquitoes. The helicopter will be taken back to Le Sueur on Thursday, after it’s recovered from the house.

Scott Churchill, the owner of Scott’s Helicopter Service, who was on the scene Wednesday, said the crash was like losing a family member.

Autopsy and toxicology reports will be conducted, the safety board said, as well as review of Kramer’s training. The helicopter crashed about 15 minutes after taking off, shortly after 8 a.m.

Neighbors said the small helicopter was swooping very low over the area before the crash, but that’s not necessarily unusual for helicopters that spray for mosquitoes. The neighborhood backs up against a small but heavily wooded nature preserve.

Kramer’s wife, Tricia Kramer, said her husband was a loving father of two children — ages 12 and 9. He was also a foster parent to a 52-year-old with Down syndrome. She said her husband graduated from the University of Minnesota, served in the Army, worked as a dairy farmer and a pilot for WCCO.

Kramer’s brother said he was at the family’s home Wednesday afternoon.

“They got a picture of him, you know, ‘Happy Father’s Day,’ ‘Greatest Dad in the World’ on the window there,” he said, “and it really tears at your heartstrings.”

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