The pilot of a helicopter that crashed in rural northeastern Pennsylvania last month, killing all five people on board, wasn't certified to fly using only on-board instruments, according to federal investigators.
A preliminary report by the National Transportation Safety Administration also says there was no indication that the pilot obtained a weather briefing before taking off July 27 from Tri-Cities Airport in Endicott, N.Y., bound for Jake Arner Memorial Airport in Lehighton shortly before the crash in Wyoming County.
The report made available Friday noted heavy fog in the area at the time that prompted a temporary suspension of the search effort in the rugged area. The wreckage was located the following afternoon near Noxen, a picturesque town of about 1,000 residents.
The pilot told air traffic controllers in Wilkes-Barre that the helicopter was flying using instruments rather than visual indicators and he asked to be directed to the nearest airport, the report said.
The controller sent directions to Sky Haven Airport in Tunkhannock, but after several changes in direction, the pilot reported difficulty in maintaining control of the aircraft and later confirmed having difficulty maintaining altitude, the report said. At about the same time, the helicopter descended from 2,600 to 2,300 feet and changed direction again, after which there were no further recorded communications from the pilot.
A spokeswoman for Robinson Helicopter Co., the Torrance, Calif.-based company that owns the craft, said they believe the helicopter was caught in a thunderstorm. A county coroner investigating the crash said strong storms had passed through the region around the time the helicopter went down.
The coroner's office identified the victims as 58-year-old Bernard Michael Kelly, of Ellicott City, Md.; his 27-year-old daughter, Leanna Mee Kelly, of Savage, Md.; 29-year-old Carl Robert Woodland, of Lovettsville, Va.; his 3-year-old son, Noah Robert McKain Woodland, of Leesburg, Va.; and 30-year-old David Ernest Jenny Jr., of Towson, Md. Officials haven't said which one was the pilot.