EDEN, N.C. — Two men escaped from a fiery helicopter crash Wednesday afternoon, but their pilot died when the Bell 429 aircraft went down in a wooded area near a Duke Energy power plant.
Officials have not yet released the names of the men, all employed by Duke Energy. The two injured passengers were rescued by emergency personnel and one remains at UNC Rockingham Health Care here where he is listed in fair condition, a hospital spokesperson said.
The second passenger was airlifted to Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center and his health status is not known, Rodney Cates, director of Rockingham County Emergency Services, said at a press conference around 3:30 p.m. on Wednesday.
Federal Aviation Administration officials had arrived from Raleigh to take over the crash site late Wednesday and were seeking answers to what went wrong as the trio of men did routine power line inspections. Their 4,700-pound helicopter was seen flying unusually low by numerous witnesses before it crashed around 1:30 p.m. in the wood line around the Rosewood Lane residential area. The area is about 1 mile from Freedom Park.
No residences were affected by the crash and there were no power outages, authorities said.
"The helicopter was engulfed in flames and firefighters worked to extinguish the flames," Cates said in a news release late Wednesday. "Once the fire suppression was complete and the scene was safe to approach, responders located the pilot of the helicopter who was deceased.''
Earlier in the day at the news conference, Cates said the helicopter, which came to rest on its right side, was carrying a "heavy" fuel load at the time of the wreck.
Authorities said they did not know from where the helicopter took off on Wednesday. There were no reports of distress from the pilot to local agencies, Cates said.
The National Transportation Safety Board is expected to send investigators to assist in removing the craft's wreckage on Thursday, Cates said in the release. And an environmental cleaning agency will help Thursday in managing the crash site where firefighters sprayed flame-suppressing foam around the perimeter to prevent a wild fire.
"Though this was a horrific scene and a tragedy for the pilot and his family, who will remain in our thoughts and prayers ... a Duke Energy representative stated that this was an outstanding response from the 'Team,' '' Cates said in the release.
In addition to the FAA, 15 state and local agencies responded to the crash.
Plenty of residents living in the area heard the helicopter flying low just before the crash, Cates said.
“It was shaking my house it was so low,” Joe Scott of Eden said.
Shelly Horton of Eden said she was driving home to the Draper section of Eden when the helicopter flew over twice.
"I thought it was a little suspicious because I’ve never seen them fly that low for that long," Horton said. "I was driving east on Stadium Drive. It was headed north the first time it flew over and south towards the power plant when I seen it the second time. But it never occurred to me that it might be in trouble."
Contact Susie C. Spear at email@example.com, 336-349-4331, Ext. 6140 and follow @SpearSusie_RCN on Twitter.