A Tennessee helicopter crash has claimed the lives of the pilot and four tourists aboard a sightseeing flight over the Smoky Mountains, WBIR (Knoxville) is reporting.
The crash occurred at about 3:30 p.m. as the Bell 206 sightseeing helicopter went down in flames at the base of a mountain.
— Telegraph News (@TelegraphNews) April 5, 2016
All five people aboard the helicopter were killed in the crash. As of this writing, there are no known reports of casualties on the ground, according to MSN.
Pigeon Forge Police Chief Jack Baldwin described a scene of utter devastation at the crash site.
“There was not much left of the helicopter. There’s just a small piece of the tailwing and that’s about what’s left of the helicopter.”
Baldwin says that one person was believed to have been thrown from the helicopter. Neighbor and witness Shawn Matern describes witnessing the critically injured man’s agonizing final moments.
“I came out and that’s when I saw the second explosion and I go ‘What was that?’ That’s when I came over closer and saw the guy rolling out of the helicopter screaming ‘Help me! Help me!’ A couple of our neighbors went over the river to see how he was doing. The guy asked him ‘Are you still with me?’ And the guy just shook his head, he raised his hand and the next few minutes he passed away.”
The crash also touched off a small forest fire, as burning wreckage from the helicopter set off the brush that eventually grew to a two to three-acre wildfire. Officials from the Pigeon Forge Fire Department, as well of several other agencies, worked to contain the wildfire sparked by the crash. As of about 8:45 p.m. Monday night, the fire was mostly contained.
Vehicles coming & going throughout the morning at the scene of the deadly sightseeing helicopter crash in Sevier Co. pic.twitter.com/gk9j4BD3wW
— Russell Biven (@WBIRrussell) April 5, 2016
Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, is a community of about 6,000 people in the heart of the Smoky Mountains. Until the late 1960s, the town was a mostly-unknown hamlet in Sevier County, a dirt-poor region of Appalachia with few roads and little infrastructure.
Beginning in the late 1960s, however, a commercial development boom transformed the small Appalachian hamlet into a thriving resort community.
Today, Pigeon Forge, along with the nearby community of Gatlinburg, is home to dozens of hotels and motels, shops, restaurants, outlet malls, music theaters, and tourist attractions such as zip-line tours and indoor sky-diving. Dolly Parton’s Dollywood theme park is also nearby (Parton grew up in Sevier County).
“Come enjoy a Pigeon Forge vacation with your family and friends! Our city is the greatest place within the Smoky Mountains for a family getaway, a weekend trip for two or to host your convention. Discover an array of fun along the Parkway and explore various attractions, shows, and stores. Stay in a cabin, hotel, condo or be adventurous at one of our many campgrounds. Be sure to pay a visit to Cades Cove and don’t miss out on unique events! We offer a variety of coupons and vacation packages so you can save on your Pigeon Forge Vacation.”
One such popular thrill attraction in Pigeon Forge is helicopter tours. Several sightseeing helicopter flights can be observed in the area per day. Sometimes, according to Fox News, sightseeing helicopter pilots like to thrill their passengers by attempting dangerous moves such as flying too close to the treetops or attempting dangerous flight maneuvers.
As of this writing, the cause of the fatal Tennessee helicopter crash has not been officially determined.
[Image via Shutterstock/Makushin]