The aircraft had been used to give tourist flights around the area, Ray Bryant, the chief of operations for Logan Emergency Management Authority, told WSAZ. The helicopter, which is owned by Marpat Aviation, was part of an annual reunion this week for enthusiasts of the historical “Huey” aircraft.
The names of the victims have not been released, but Bryant indicated to local media that they were not from the area.
The cause of the crash remains unclear, according to authorities. The Logan County Office of Emergency Management had issued a severe thunderstorm watch for the county at the time of the incident.
“After first responders arrived on scene they were later able to confirm that six individuals were fatally killed in this crash,” Sonya Porter, deputy director of the Logan County Office of Emergency Management, told The Washington Post.
The FAA and National Transportation Safety Board announced that they are investigating the incident. The NTSB said that it was sending a team of five investigators and a family assistance specialist to the site of the crash.
Mike Holbrook, the owner and operator of Marpat Aviation, did not immediately respond to a request for comment early Thursday.
The Bell UH-1B helicopter was manufactured in 1962 and used during the Vietnam War, according to the FAA. The Huey that crashed had also been featured in several movies, including “Die Hard,” “The Rock” and “Baywatch.”
The seventh annual Huey reunion started Tuesday and was scheduled to go until Sunday, according to Marpat’s website. Enthusiasts of the historical aircraft could make a reservation at the airport in Logan County to fly the helicopter without being a pilot, the website says. A $250 donation was required for those wanting to fly for 30 minutes to help cover the fuel. Those who wanted to ride along could do so by making a small donation.
“We want all helicopter (especially Huey) enthusiasts to have an opportunity to fly/ride in this historical helicopter,” the website says.
Porter told The Post that in addition to the Huey reunion, the City of Logan’s Freedom Festival was also happening.
“I do not know if they were participating in those events or where they took off from,” she said.
When crews arrived at Route 17 near Kelly Hollow shortly after the crash, the helicopter was still on fire, Bryant told WSAZ. Authorities indicated that the front section of the helicopter appeared to have crashed through a guardrail and into the hillside. Bryant told local media that one of the owners of the helicopter arrived at the scene but did not specify whether it was Holbrook.
“Everybody’s saddened that this has occurred in our county, and they’re distraught over the incident,” Porter told West Virginia MetroNews.
Gov. Jim Justice (R-W.Va.) tweeted that he and his wife, Cathy, were “praying for the families of those killed in this tragic helicopter crash.”
The road is temporarily closed, and it’s unclear when it will reopen, WCHS reported.
Witnesses recounted the intensity of the fire after the crash. Bobbi Childs, who lives about a mile from where the helicopter crashed, told WSAZ that she saw at least one person trapped in the aircraft as the flames had overtaken it.
“I ran as fast as I could go and I went under the guardrail and I went up to the helicopter,” Childs said. “But the fire was just so hot, so intense, and that guy didn’t make it out of there.”