The pilot of a helicopter that crashed in Medford, New Jersey, killing him and country music singer Troy Gentry, hovered the faulty aircraft for 10 minutes while reviewing his options and waiting for first responders to arrive on the scene, 911 calls indicate.
Pilot James Robinson, 30, had taken Mr. Gentry up in the helicopter for a “spur of the moment” ride Sept. 8 hours before Mr. Gentry was scheduled to perform with bandmate Eddie Montgomery, 50, at the Flying W Airport and Resort in Medford.
Shortly after taking off, Mr. Robinson radioed that he was unable to control the helicopter’s RPM with throttle inputs. His calls for help prompted airport employees to place three calls to 911, starting with the airport manager who told the dispatcher that she would close the airport so the pilot could land on the runway.
The manager told the 911 dispatcher that she would wait for the fire department to arrive before clearing Mr. Robinson to land on the runway.
After a few minutes passed, the manager called 911 again to inquire about the fire department’s response time. A third call was placed to 911 to report that no responders had arrived at the scene.
“I have a helicopter emergency. The fire department has been notified already,” the caller said. “I’m curious about when they’re getting here,” according to NJ.com.
“We just dispatched them,” the dispatcher replied. “You guys didn’t give us an ETA of when the chopper was coming in. They’re volunteers, so… but we did dispatch them.”
Medford Fire Chief Thomas Thorn told NJ.com the delay was “unusual.” According to NJ.com, he explained “that calls from the airport, which sits between Lumberton and Medford, prompt responses from both departments. Because Lumberton’s fire department is comprised of volunteers, they generally take longer to arrive, while Medford has full-time staff that can respond immediately during the day.”
But Chief Thomas also old NJ.com it was highly unusual to get called to a scene before a helicopter or airplane crash. In fact, it was the first time in his 30 years of service that he responded to such an emergency. He said that once the Medford Fire Department got called, it responded within two minutes.
Meanwhile, after discussing several options with the ground, Mr. Robinson opted to perform an autorotation, a maneuver in which the power is cut off and the pilot manually glides the aircraft to the ground. However, when he tried to manually roll the twistgrip, he said there was no corresponding change in the engine’s RPM, an indication that there could have been something wrong with the helicopter’s transmission.
It is unclear why the autorotation failed, sending the helicopter plummeting to the ground. Mr. Robinson had successfully trained for the emergency maneuver in the past. It’s also unclear why the helicopter went down in a field instead of on the runway.
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) continues to investigate the crash.