The Philadelphia television news crew members who died after their helicopter crashed in a southern New Jersey forest were returning from a trip to film a Christmas lights display, an investigator said Thursday.
Todd Gunther, an investigator with the National Transportation Safety Board, told reporters near the crash site that WPVI’s Chopper 6 took off from Northeast Philadelphia Airport Tuesday night and “had flown over to report on some Christmas light activity, and then they were returning back to base when the accident occurred.”
Killed in the crash were the pilot, 67-year-old Monroe Smith of Glenside, Pennsylvania, and a photographer, 45-year-old Christopher Dougherty of Oreland, Pennsylvania.
Gunther did not specify the precise location the crew was filming, but the station previously reported the crew had been sent to a story assignment in Galloway Township, just outside Atlantic City.
One of the main attractions in Galloway is Historic Smithville, a tourist attraction that in winter includes a lavish holiday light display with over 120 Christmas trees decorated with more than 50,000 lights on a lake.
The federal agency, which investigates fatal accidents involving transportation, has an eight-member team on-site in Washington Township in Burlington County, at Wharton State Forest. They plan to remain there for three days and then issue a preliminary report 10 to 15 days after that time.
Gunther said investigators will look at anything that may have either contributed to or caused the crash, which occurred on a clear, cold night.
The chopper made two previous flights on Tuesday before the crash, he said.
Elements to be examined include the structural integrity of the helicopter, its rotor, drive and flight control systems, its maintenance history and “the physiology of the pilot on board,” Gunther said.
On its website Thursday, the TV station quoted Pete Kane, a retired journalist who was friends with Smith. He went to the same high school as Smith, and used to fly with him.
“We had the same goals. That was to do the job the best we could do it,” he said. “And I think we both did that. He did it till the end. We’d have problems with the instruments on my chopper and he would tell me, this is what you have to do. Just a great guy. He took away my fear of flying.”
Dave Allegretti, a childhood friend of Dougherty since kindergarten, recalled the photographer’s “infectious laugh” and his knack for storytelling.
“He enjoyed listening to and creating music,” Allegretti told the TV station. “He was an avid Philly sports fan, a dedicated and talented photographer, but most importantly, he was an incredible husband, father, brother, son, and friend.”
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