TV Crew Filmed Holiday Lights Before Fatal Crash

Two members of WPVI news team died when their helicopter went down
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Dec 21, 2023 1:48 PM CST
TV Crew Filmed Holiday Lights Before Fatal Crash
A Wharton State Forest sign stands along side of the road in Washington Township, NJ, Wednesday, Dec. 20, 2023. Investigators are examining the wreckage of a TV news helicopter that crashed in the New Jersey Pinelands, killing the pilot and a photographer on board.   (Jose F. Moreno/The Philadelphia Inquirer via AP)

The two-person crew of a Philadelphia television news helicopter had filmed a Christmas lights display before crashing into the forest in southern New Jersey, an investigator said Thursday. Todd Gunther, an investigator with the National Transportation Safety Board, told reporters near the crash site that WPVI's Chopper 6 took off from Northeast Philadelphia Airport Tuesday night and "had flown over to report on some Christmas light activity, and then they were returning back to base when the accident occurred," per the AP. He did not specify the precise location the crew was filming, but the station previously reported the crew had been sent to a story assignment in Galloway Township, just outside Atlantic City.

One of the main attractions in Galloway is Historic Smithville, a tourist attraction that in winter includes a lavish holiday light display with over 120 Christmas trees decorated with more than 50,000 lights on a lake. The federal agency, which investigates fatal accidents involving transportation, has an eight-member team on-site in Washington Township in Burlington County, at Wharton State Forest. They plan to remain there for three days and then issue a preliminary report 10 to 15 days after that time. Gunther said investigators will look at anything that may have either contributed to or caused the crash, which occurred on a clear, cold night. The chopper made two previous flights on Tuesday, he said.

Elements to be examined include the structural integrity of the helicopter; its rotor, drive, and flight control systems; its maintenance history; and "the physiology of the pilot on board," Gunther said. Killed in the crash were the pilot, 67-year-old Monroe Smith of Glenside, Pennsylvania, and a photographer, 45-year-old Christopher Dougherty of Oreland, Pennsylvania. On its website Thursday, the TV station quoted Pete Kane, a retired journalist who was friends with Smith and used to fly with him. "We'd have problems with the instruments on my chopper and he would tell me, 'This is what you have to do.' Just a great guy. He took away my fear of flying," Kane said. (More helicopter crash stories.)

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