CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — A helicopter crash last month that killed six people in West Virginia occurred when the aircraft hit a rock face 15 minutes after takeoff from a local airport, federal investigators said in a preliminary report Tuesday.
The Vietnam-era Bell UH-1B “Huey” helicopter struck the rock face in an area about 4 miles (6.4 kilometers) from Logan County Airport in Amherstdale, National Transportation Safety Board investigators said in the report. The cockpit and cabin then crashed into a roadway and a guardrail and were consumed by fire.
Investigators have not yet released any information about the cause of the accident. A final report could take a year or two to complete, they said.
The flight on June 22 was the last scheduled for the day during a multiday reunion for helicopter enthusiasts where visitors could sign up to ride or fly the historic Huey helicopter, described by organizers as one of the last of its kind still flying.
The helicopter was flown by the 114th Assault Helicopter Company, “The Knights of the Sky,” in Vinh Long, Vietnam, throughout much of the 1960s, according to the website for MARPAT Aviation, a Logan County flight school that operated the helicopter. After the Huey returned to the U.S. in 1971, the website says, it was featured in movies such as “Die Hard, “The Rock” and “Under Siege: Dark Territory.”
During the reunion, people who made a donation could fly the helicopter with a “safety pilot” seated in the left front seat, according to the report. People could take a ride on the helicopter for a suggested donation.
A private pilot, two “pilot rated” passengers and three others were killed in the crash.
Investigators said wreckage from the crash was found 26 feet (8 meters) across a roadway, as well as in a ditch at the base of a rock face. Additional wreckage including pieces of Plexiglas, a section of a tail rotor blade were found about 40 feet (12 meters) above the wreckage on a ledge of the steep rock face.
There were no known witnesses to the accident, according to the report.