Copter crash kills five
BY ROBERT L. BAKER
Wyoming County Press Examiner
A helicopter that went down in bad weather Saturday night in Wyoming County claimed the five occupants on board.
Wyoming County Coroner Tom Kukuchka identified the victims 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.
Kukuchka said Jenny was the pilot and was teaching Carl Woodland how to fly, although it was unclear who was flying at the time the helicopter crashed in Noxen near the BP Mehoopany Wind Farm Saturday night.
Autopsies showed all five died from multiple traumatic injuries. The remains were sent to Lackawanna County because Wyoming County does not have the capacity to handle multiple deaths, he said.
According to the Federal Aviation Administration, the Robinson 66 helicopter was en route from Greater Binghamton Airport, N.Y., to the Jake Arner Memorial Airport in Lehighton on Saturday night when it crashed in a “heavily wooded, rugged area” near Noxen.
The FAA stated that an alert notice was issued after the helicopter lost radar and communication contact.
The National Transportation Safety Board is leading an accident investigation, and the FAA is also investigating.
Forkston resident Perle Goodwin said that it was thundering and lightning with heavy rain around 8 p.m., Saturday, when he went outside and was surprised to see a helicopter flying overhead.
“He was flying pretty low over my house, and he could have landed in the ball field across the street,” Goodwin said.
He noted, however, that the helicopter was going in the opposite direction and seemed to be following the South Branch of the Mehoopany Creek when it just disappeared.
“I knew he was in deep trouble,” Goodwin said. “I feel so bad for the lives lost.”
When the helicopter lost contact with a radio tower at the Wilkes-Barre Scranton International Airport around 10:21 p.m. Saturday, a search began that included state police, Wyoming County Emergency Management Agency and emergency responders from Noxen and surrounding areas including Harveys Lake, Kunkle and FWM (Mehoopany).
At that time, FWM and Noxen Fire Companies began a unified command search with FWM Chief Lyman Walters at the fire hall and Noxen Chief Lew Hackling on the ground.
Hackling said they searched until 3 a.m. when it was decided to suspend operations until daylight.
Early in the morning a Civil Air Patrol helicopter assisted in the search and after the fog lifted a state police helicopter also helped.
Captain James Bruck of the United States Air Force Auxiliary Civil Air Patrol, Scranton Composite Squadron 201, said the unit was called in Sunday morning to assist with the search.
“Around 9 a.m. a Civil Air Patrol Cessna search aircraft arrived over the location of the last radar contact and established communications with the ground search team. The aircraft picked up the Emergency Locator Transmitter signal but it was weak and hard to determine the exact position,” he stated.
Each time the Air Patrol picked up the signal, it would lose it almost immediately.
“Shortly after the search teams were dispatched to an assembly point nearer to the targeted area, severe fast-moving thunderstorms and lightning approached the county from the west, forcing the CAP aircraft to return to its base in Harrisburg,” Bruck stated.
When the rain stopped, a state police helicopter arrived and picked up the signal, but had the same problem locating it. Dense foliage obscured the view on the ground, and state police couldn’t see the wreckage until they were on top of the site, which was located at about 1:45 p.m.
Hackling said the crash scene was in Noxen Township on South Mountain on land owned by Deer Park Lumber.
Hackling said it was located about three-tenths of a mile from the nearest road in the Mehoopany Wind Farm and there was rugged terrain, a hilly slope, and fallen trees that had to be negotiated to get to the crash scene.
IN PHOTO: On Sunday, emergency personnel investigate the site where a Robinson R66 Turbine helicopter crashed Saturday might near the BP wind Farm in Mehoopany, Wyoming County. PHOTO COURTESY OF/ ED KELLER WBRE EYEWITNESS NEWS