NOXEN, Pa. (AP) — Severe thunderstorms and heavy fog were reported around the time a helicopter crashed in northeastern Pennsylvania on Saturday, killing all five people on board, including a child, officials said Monday.
Search and rescue crews scouring the rugged, wooded area where the helicopter crashed on Saturday night encountered heavy fog, National Transportation Safety Board spokesman Peter Knudson said.
Early indications are that the helicopter was caught in a thunderstorm, said Loretta Conley, a spokeswoman for the company that owns the craft. A county coroner investigating crash also said strong storms had passed through the region around the time the helicopter went down.
The pilot contacted air traffic controllers around 10:30 p.m. Saturday to report he was losing altitude and would try to return to a nearby airfield, Wyoming County coroner Thomas Kukuchka said Sunday.
“That’s when he went off radar,” Kukuchka said.
The coroner’s office on Monday identified the victims as 58-year-old Bernard Michael Kelly, of Ellicott City, Md.; his 27-year-old daughter, Leanna Mee Kelly, of Savage, Md.; 29-year-old Carl Robert Woodland, of Lovettsville, Va.; his 3-year-old son, Noah Robert McKain Woodland, of Leesburg, Va.; and 30-year-old David Ernest Jenny Jr., of Towson, Md. It didn’t say who was piloting the helicopter.
All five died of multiple traumatic injuries when the helicopter crashed near Noxen, a picturesque town of about 1,000 residents.
Knudson said he did not know the reason for the flight.
The wreckage was heavily fragmented but there was no fire after the crash, Knudson said. The aircraft was equipped with a device that records engine parameters for maintenance purposes, and that will be examined in Washington for clues as to the cause of the crash.
No witnesses to the crash had been found, but authorities are still searching for anyone who might have seen it, Knudson said.
The flight originated at Tri Cities Airport in Endicott, N.Y. Records show the helicopter, an R66 Rotorcraft, refueled at Tri Cities at 4:10 p.m. Saturday, airport manager Gerard Corprew said.
Corprew said the helicopter must have gone back to the airport at least once more, however, because a father and young son later killed in the crash were still waiting to be picked up when he left at 7 p.m.
The type of helicopter that crashed is sometimes used for tours, Corprew said, and can seat four plus a pilot. It also can be used for training new pilots.
A tail number Corprew provided showed the aircraft is owned by Robinson Helicopter Co., of Torrance, Calif., according to an FAA records check. Conley said the company “is saddened by the loss of lives.” She said the helicopter had been sold to a Robinson Helicopter dealer in Hampton Roads, Va.
The company sent investigators to assist the federal probe, which is being led by the National Transportation Safety Board. An NTSB official in charge of the scene did not immediately return a call for comment Monday.
The coroner and police said rough weather contributed to the difficulty of the search. The wreckage was located shortly before 2 p.m. Sunday.