PIGEON FORGE, Tenn. — Authorities in Tennessee worked Tuesday to find out what caused a sightseeing helicopter to crash the day before, killing the pilot and four others on board. Two of those on board have been identified as North Carolina residents.
The helicopter went down Monday afternoon on a hillside in Pigeon Forge, a tourist destination best known as the home of the Dollywood theme park near the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
The Federal Aviation Administration is investigating and has not said what caused the Bell 206 helicopter to crash about 3:30 p.m. Monday.
The aircraft went down hard in a wooded area not far from some residences.
“There isn’t much left of the helicopter,” Pigeon Forge police Chief Jack H. Baldwin told WATE-TV in Knoxville
“The aircraft did burn, setting the woodland adjoining the crash site on fire, causing a forest fire that required several local and state fire agencies to respond to the scene,” Baldwin told CNN.
The fire was put out by Tuesday.
Why was the helicopter making this flight?
The helicopter was owned by Smoky Mountain Helicopters, WVLT-TV in Knoxville reported, one of several companies that carry tourists in the air for an overview of the region.
The company website said the firm “has been offering scenic helicopter tours of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Cherokee, Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge, Sevierville and surrounding areas since 1964.”
The company flies people out of two locations in Sevierville, Tenn., and another one in Cherokee, N.C.
Who were the victims?
According to the Knoxville News Sentinel, the victims were Peyton Rasmussen, 22; and her brother Parker, 18; their mother, Johna Morvant, 49; Peyton Rasmussen’s boyfriend, Michael Mastalez, 21; and the pilot, 38-year-old Jason Dahl.
Scott Rasmussen, the father of Peyton and Parker and the ex-husband of Morvant, said his children were in Tennessee visiting their mother. They lived with him Huntersville, N.C., he said.
Parker Rasmussen was being home-schooled and Peyton Rasmussen was attending classes to become a medical technician, he said.
What did witnesses report?
Wilma Law, who lives near the crash site, said she heard a puttering noise and then a loud explosion, the Knoxville News Sentinel reported.
Shawn Matern told WVLT the helicopter crashed across the river from where he lived.
“I was in my house and heard a big explosion. Me and my neighbor both did, so we ran outside and we saw that the helicopter had crashed more or less and was on the ground already.”
Matern said he heard a second explosion and saw a man roll out of the wreckage “burning alive.”
“He died right in front of me,” Matern told the station.
He said two neighbors dove into the river and swam across to help the victims.
Where did the crash happen?
The crash happened several miles from Dollywood, the family-oriented theme park partially owned by entertainer Dolly Parton.
Pigeon Forge is a city of around 5,800 residents about a 35-mile drive southeast of Knoxville. It’s a major tourist destination in the Southeast because of its proximity to the Great Smoky Mountain National Park, the nation’s most-visited park.