A federal investigator said that county music singer Troy Gentry’s fatal helicopter flight at a resort in Medford, New Jersey, Friday afternoon was an “impromptu, spur of the moment” joy ride.
“[It was a] ‘Would you like to go for a helicopter ride?’” situation, senior air safety investigator Brian Raymer told People.
After a few minutes into the flight, pilot James Evan Robinson began experiencing mechanical problems and was having difficulty controlling the Schweitzer 269 Charlie 1 aircraft.
“Not long after takeoff, the pilot announced over the airport frequency – which was being monitored by a number of people – that he was having difficulty controlling engine RPM,” Mr. Rayner, who is leading the National Transportation Safety Board’s (NTSB) investigation of the incident, said. “A couple of different responses to that challenge were discussed, and he was performing an auto rotational descent to runway one.”
Witnesses on the ground reported seeing the helicopter circling overhead before it dropped suddenly and plummeted to the ground, landing in low brush at the end of the Flying W Airport & Resort runway.
Mr. Rayner said the helicopter was “substantially damaged” in the crash and “the occupants were fatally injured.”
Mr. Robinson was pronounced dead at the crash site and Mr. Gentry, who was to perform later that day with bandmate Eddie Montgomery, initially survived the crash but later died of his injuries at Virtua Hospital in Marlton, New Jersey.
“Yesterday the day started with such excitement as the Montgomery Gentry bus rolled through our gates,” the Flying W said in a statement. “The nicest people got off the bus and joined us on the ramp for what we hoped would be the best concert we have ever had. Sadly this was not to be.
“Instead the day turned to tragedy as a helicopter accident took the lives of the pilot and Mr. Gentry. No words can describe the sadness that the Flying W employees feel for the families.”
The NTSB is expected to release a preliminary report detailing the circumstances of the crash early next week. Final reports can take a year or longer to prepare.