NTSB preliminary report, released Wednesday, included detailed description of chopper's final flight and crash site
PHILADELPHIA -- The National Transportation Safety Board has released its preliminary report, as its investigation into the crash of ABC Philadelphia affiliate WPVI's helicopter continues.
Chopper 6 crashed in the Wharton State Forest in Burlington County, New Jersey around 8 p.m. on Tuesday, Dec. 19.
It was coming back to Philadelphia after an assignment in Galloway Township, New Jersey when it went down.
The NTSB preliminary report, released Wednesday, included a detailed description of the chopper's final flight and the crash site.
Chopper 6 launched from Northeast Philadelphia Airport around 7:23 p.m. and headed to an assignment in Galloway Township, New Jersey.
After hovering for about 20 minutes, Smith was cleared to leave by the WPVI assignment desk and he began flying back to Philadelphia.
The NTSB said at about 8:01 p.m. the helicopter drifted off its flight track. Its final position was recorded at 8:03 p.m.
"According to a witness, around this time, he observed a solid light traveling quickly at a steep angle, while another witness observed what he described as a 'giant orange ball' descending into the forest," the NTSB report reads.
At about 10 p.m., WPVI notified U.S. Helicopters, the company that owns the aircraft, after assignment editors were unable to reach the crew for another assignment.
After confirming the helicopter had not returned to Northeast Philadelphia Airport, state and local authorities were contacted.
The wreckage was located around 12:05 a.m. on Dec. 20 in a densely wooded area of Wharton State Forest near Hammonton, N.J.
Most of the helicopter was destroyed in the crash and resulting fire, though the engine was recovered.
The NTSB said there were no issues with the engine that would have prevented the chopper from normal flight.
The debris field extended some 600 feet, investigators said.
Investigators say the chopper was on its third flight of the day and had been refueled before the accident.
Its last airworthiness inspection was conducted on the day of the crash.
WPVI spoke with a former Navy pilot and aviation attorney about some of NTSB's preliminary report findings.
"It's particularly important that this [helicopter] came out of maintenance the same day of the crash, a comprehensive airworthiness inspection on the same day of the crash that was listed towards the end of the report. There are many, many accidents that happen right after maintenance, right after inspections," noted John Gagliano.
Gagliano said he takes issue with some of the report's findings, based on what the NTSB initially stated after the crash.
"What stood out to me was what the NTSB investigator in charge said the day after the crash, and that is that they were not looking for things that went wrong. They were looking for things that went right. That's the wrong way to approach an investigation," he said.
The helicopter, built in 2013, had some 7,300 total hours of operation.
Smith, the pilot, last had a medical certificate issued by the Federal Aviation Administration on July 18, 2023. At the time he reported he had accrued 8,597 total flight hours.
The NTSB secured the wreckage as the investigation continues.
The preliminary report did not include any possible cause of the crash.
That could be part of the final report from the NTSB, which is expected to be released in the next 18 months.