Crash investigators work now underway
BY JIM HALPIN and ELIZABETH SKRAPITS
NOXEN TWP. – National Transportation Safety Board officials arrived at the crash scene Monday to start the investigation.
NTSB Senior Air Safety Investigator Tim Monville took time to speak with the media at the Noxen fire hall.
The NTSB expects to spend several days documenting the site before the wreckage is recovered and taken to a secure place for the investigation to continue, he said. The agency will look at factors including the pilot’s experience, the helicopter and its engine, and the weather.
“We do know by first responders who were in the area within one hour, they report heavy fog, rain which increased in intensity when they were at the scene,” Monville said. “So we’ve got some weather conditions that we’ll look at very closely for our investigation.”
After takeoff, the helicopter pilot established communications with an air traffic controller at Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Airport and requested a path to a nearby airport, Skyhaven in Tunkhannock, he said.
“Shortly after that, the aircraft was lost from radar and radio contact,” he said.
Authorities said the pilot reported to controllers that he was losing altitude. He never made it to Skyhaven.
The helicopter crashed in a heavily wooded area, and “fragmented as it descended through the trees,” Monville said. He said debris spread out over a “several-hundred yard area.”
Gerard Corprew, manager of Tri Cities Airport, said airport records showed the helicopter refueled about 4 p.m. Saturday. It wasn’t clear where it came from, he said.
Even after refueling, two of the passengers – a father and a young boy now identified as Karl Woodland and his son Noah of Leesburg, Va., were waiting at the airport, presumably while the other three people were flying, said Corprew, who met them about 6 p.m.
At the time, Corprew said he assumed they were just waiting for the flight to return, with the boy playing with his toys in the lobby.
“I believe they were just on a training flight or a sightseeing flight, flying around,” he said. “I left here around seven o’clock and they were still here.”
The weather at the time, however, was rough, with rain and thunderstorms rolling through, he said.
“Not good, is all I can say,” Corprew said. “After I left, it seemed like it came down in buckets. It was not flying weather, let’s put it that way.”
Federal Aviation Records show the helicopter, a five-seat Robinson R66 Turbine, is registered to its manufacturer, Robinson Helicopter Co. of Torrance, Calif.
Company spokeswoman Loretta Conley, however, said the five-passenger turbine helicopter had been sold to the company’s dealer in Virginia, Hampton Roads Helicopters of Chesapeake, Va.
A man who answered the phone at Hampton Roads Helicopters said he was aware of the crash but directed comment to Director of Operations Dave Hynes, who did not immediately return a message seeking comment.
Monville said he spoke by phone on Monday with the owner of the helicopter, who is currently in England, but wouldn’t identify the person. He said the helicopter was for private use.
“In terms of the relationship of the pilot and the owner and the agreements between them, that’s going to have to be determined. It’s still too early to do that,” Monville said.