NOXEN TWP. —The Wyoming County coroner has released the names of the pilot and four passengers killed over the weekend when the Robinson R66 helicopter they were flying in crashed in a mountainous, wooded area of Wyoming County.
Wyoming County Coroner Thomas Kukuchka identified the deceased as Bernard Michael Kelly, 58, of Ellicott City, Md.; his daughter, Leanna Mee Kelly, 27, of Savage, Md.; David Ernest Jenny Jr., 31, of Towson, Md.; Carl Robert Woodland, 29, of Lovettsville, Va.; and his son, Noah Robert McKain Woodland, 3, of Leesburg, Va.
The causes of death for all five were multiple traumatic injuries, Kukuchka said.
The aircraft they were in was flying to the Jake Arner Memorial Airport in Lehighton from the Tri Cities Airport in Endicott, N.Y., Saturday night when it lost radar and communication contact, according to the Federal Aviation Administration. The wreckage was located at 1:50 p.m. Sunday off an access road to the Mehoopany Wind Farm.
The National Transportation Safety Board is leading the investigation, in addition to an investigation that’s been undertaken by the FAA. The NTSB had a briefing for the media at the Noxen fire station late Monday afternoon.
Tim Monville, senior air safety investigator for the NTSB in Ashburn, Va., confirmed information the FAA provided earlier as preliminary and said he has yet to interview friends and family members of the deceased to confirm the departure point and intended destination. He said no flight plan had been filed before the flight and no witness to the flight’s departure has been found.
Monville said he has learned that sometime after take-off, the pilot established contact with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton International Airport approach control and requested a vector (direction and distance) to a nearby airport — Skyhaven Airport in Tunkhannock. “Shortly after that, the aircraft was lost from radar and radio contact.”
The aircraft is presumed to have crashed at 10:21 p.m., he said.
After contact was lost, a search was initiated. Wyoming County Emergency Management Agency, Pennsylvania State Police, the Mehoopany, Noxen, Kunkle and Harveys Lake fire departments, Noxen and FWM (Forkston/Windham/Mehoopany) ambulance companies, the American Red Cross and the Civil Air Patrol participated.
The crashed helicopter was located Sunday afternoon after a search team in a helicopter spotted it, finding the area using the last known location of the craft and and a signal from a locator transmitter.
Noxen Volunteer Fire Company Capt. Jim Russell said the search team contacted volunteer emergency workers hiking through the brush to let them know where the downed aircraft had landed.
“It was laying in a creek upside down,” Russell said.
The Noxen department, aided by F.W.M. Volunteer Fire Department, worked until about 2 a.m., when a severe thunderstorm paused their search, Russell said. Later, about a half-dozen other emergency crews were dispatched to aid in the search.
Noxen Township Supervisor Catherine Pauley, who lives near the firehouse, said soupy fog made searching difficult. One of the fireman told Russell he was probably 50 feet from the downed helicopter that night, but he couldn’t see it due to the fog. Resuming the search around 7 a.m. was hard because nerves and muscles were already raw, Pauley said.
“They were already exhausted,” Pauley said. “And they knew they weren’t going to find anything good. That makes it even harder for the younger ones.”
Firefighters were able to drive trucks in on the rocky wind farm access route, but had to trek for about 30 minutes on foot to reach the site, Russell said. The search lasted about 22 hours.
Monville said the crash into a heavily wooded area resulted in separations of the main rotor, blades, massed assembly, transmission and tail boom among various points of descent among the trees. He said the documentation of parts will continue today.
Representatives of the air frame manufacturer, engine manufacturer and FAA are assisting with the investigation. NTSB also has a weather specialist in Washington, D.C., determining weather conditions and also an air traffic control specialist that will look at air traffic control aspects of the flight in the search for the cause of the crash.
“We’re looking at several things: the pilot, his experience, the helicopter, and we’re looking at environment. By environment, I mean weather. We do know (from) first responders who were in the area within one hour, they reported heavy fog (and) rain which increased in intensity when they were on scene. So we’ve got some weather conditions we’ll look at very closely in our investigation,” Monville said.
Monville said the helicopter has a component that records engine parameters, used primarily for maintenance.
Monville declined to release preliminary information he had on the pilot’s level of experience. It was unclear who was piloting the craft.
Neither could Monville say if the pilot got off a distress call because he had not yet listened to a recording of radio traffic from that night.
The R-66 is a turbo-shaft powered, five-seat helicopter. The helicopter was recently manufactured and flown from California to the East Coast. “In terms of the relationship of the pilot and the owner and the agreements between them, that’s going to have to be determined and it’s still too early to do that,” Monville said.
Monville said a preliminary crash report is typically published within five to seven working days after he’s back in the office. A factual report sometimes can take a year or more to be published.