Federal transportation officials arrived Tuesday at the site of a helicopter crash in Pigeon Forge, Tenn. and say it may take a year to complete their investigation.
Investigators from the Federal Aviation Administration and National Transportation Safety Board joined local police at a location off Rainbow Road where a sightseeing helicopter crashed just before 3:30 p.m. on Monday, April 4, 2016, killing all five people on board and setting the the wooded hillside on fire.
The helicopter involved was a 1977 Bell model 206L numbered N16760 and registered with the FAA to Bobby W. Riggs, the registered agent of M-Helicopters of Tennessee, Inc. at 1101 Winfield Dunn Parkway in Sevierville, which does business as Smoky Mountain Helicopters.
The helicopter took off from the company’s Sixty Six Heliport on Winfield Dunn Parkway for its second flight of the day, carrying one pilot and four passengers on a scenic air tour expected to last twelve minutes. However, a few minutes into the flight, the helicopter impacted near the top of a ridgeline behind Tanger Five Oaks Outlet Mall, traveled down the slope and was consumed by fire. The Pigeon Forge Fire Department, along with other local fire departments that responded, worked into the night Monday to extinguish a forest fire sparked by the crash.
Investigators believe the entire helicopter is at the scene, but say it is extremely fragmented due to post crash fire. The Critical Incident Response Team of the Tennessee Highway Patrol is assisting the FAA and NTSB by utilizing 3D laser scanning technology in the forensic mapping of the scene. The crash site is just across the west prong of the Little Pigeon River from a residential neighborhood. Personnel from the Pigeon Forge Fire Department searched those waters Tuesday afternoon to recover debris from the crash.
“We are very early in the investigation,” said NTSB Senior Air Safety Investigator Luke Schiada. “Our primary goal right now is to document the helicopter at the accident site to the point where we can move it.”
Clarksville, Tenn. based AMF Aviation, LLC, an aircraft recovery and transport company, brought heavy equipment to the site Tuesday, but officials said it would be Wednesday or later when investigators would be ready to have the wreckage recovered. It will be transported to a storage facility in Springfield, Tenn.
The Pigeon Forge Police Department has identified the victims as 38-year-old pilot Jason Dahl, of Sevierville; and passengers Johna Morvant, 49, of Kodak; her children Peyton Rasmussen, 22, and Parker Rasmussen, 18, both of Huntersville, N.C.; and Michael Glenn Mastalez, 21, of Prosper, T.X. Their remains have been taken to the Regional Forensic Center in Knoxville.
A preliminary report of the helicopter crash will be available by the end of next week, but it will not contain a probable cause for the accident.
This particular aircraft did not have a cockpit voice recorder or flight data recorder, the so called “black box,” but investigators say data may be retrieved from certain aircraft components.
Schiada said as part of the investigation, the agency will look at the pilot’s background, experience and medical certifications; company operations; helicopter maintenance history; weight distribution; component examinations, weather conditions; and witness statements to compile a report that will be sent to the NTSB in Washington, D.C. where they will determine a probable cause of the accident. That could be a year away.
Feature photo: NTSB and FAA investigators on scene of a fatal helicopter crash in Pigeon Forge, Tuesday, April 5, 2016. (MICHAEL PATRICK/NEWS SENTINEL)