Probe: Doomed Philadelphia news helicopter hit trees fast, broke up, then burned, killing 2 on board


SHAMONG, N.J. (AP) — A Philadelphia television news helicopter returning from an assignment photographing Christmas lights earlier this week plunged into a southern New Jersey forest “at very high speed,” broke apart, then caught fire after it crashed, killing both occupants, a federal crash investigator said Friday.

Todd Gunther, an investigator with the National Transportation Safety Board, told reporters near the crash site that WPVI’s Chopper 6 was returning to its base at Northeast Philadelphia Airport Tuesday night when something caused it to crash into Wharton State Forest in Washington Township.

The crew had been photographing Christmas light displays near Atlantic City.

Killed in the crash were the pilot, 67-year-old Monroe Smith of Glenside, Pennsylvania, and a photographer, 45-year-old Christopher Dougherty of Oreland, Pennsylvania.

“The aircraft hit at very high speed, and after striking the trees, it fragmented,” Gunther said, adding the damaged aircraft “was subject to a post-crash fire.”

Investigators were able to determine that there was no in-flight fire or explosion, he said.

Examination of the main rotor and tail rotors showed damage indicating that they were turning when they struck trees, Gunther said, and the helicopter had power at the time of the crash and its transmission was functioning.

There is no indication the pilot broadcast any sort of emergency warning, Gunther added.

The chopper made two previous flights on Tuesday before the crash.

Investigators are looking for anything that may have either contributed to or caused the crash, which occurred on a clear, cold night, Gunther said.

Wreckage from the crash is being removed to a secure off-site facility, where it is being reassembled to aid in the investigation into the cause. That includes the nose, tail and both sides of the helicopter.

It could be about two years before the NTSB announces its findings into what caused the crash, Gunther said.

The debris field stretched for 200 yards in the woods, about twice the length originally calculated.


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