Philadelphia news helicopter crashes in New Jersey forest, killing pilot and photographer

Investigators were looking for evidence Wednesday of what caused a news helicopter to crash in the New Jersey Pinelands the night before, killing the pilot and photographer on board.
Chopper 6 from WPVI-TV in Philadelphia was returning from an assignment at the Jersey Shore when it went down Tuesday night in a section of Wharton State Forest in Washington Township, Burlington County, authorities said.
The TV station said the crash occurred around 8 p.m. The New Jersey State Park Police said they were notified of a helicopter that had gone missing shortly before 11 p.m.
Wednesday afternoon, the station identified the pilot as 67-year-old Monroe Smith of Glenside, Pennsylvania, and the photographer as 45-year-old Christopher Dougherty of Oreland, Pennsylvania.
During a live report in which she choked up with emotion, reporter Maggie Kent told of speaking with colleagues of the crew members at Northeast Philadelphia Airport, where the chopper was based.
“They are described as the best guys that you would want to know, on the job for decades,” she said. “They are highly skilled in what they do. They loved their craft.”
Earlier in the day, reporter Katherine Scott spoke on air about the loss of her colleagues.
“Our hearts are just broken for these men," she said. "They're broken for their families. We just can't believe this has happened.”
The TV station said the chopper took off from Northeast Philadelphia Airport before 7:30 p.m. and the crew flew to an assignment near Galloway Township, not far from the Jersey Shore outside Atlantic City. Flight tracker data shows the helicopter’s altitude dropping while returning to Philadelphia, and it was last airborne over Wharton State Forest.
A state trooper’s cruiser idled Wednesday near the forested scene, where paved roads turn to gravel and signs advised that motor vehicles were restricted from entering the area near the forest.
The site is part of the New Jersey Pinelands, a million-acre wilderness area that stretches across more than seven counties and features dense woods, rivers and rare plant species.
Video taken from a WTXF-TV helicopter over the wreckage site showed scattered debris, with some pieces on fire or smoking, as authorities searched with flashlights in the darkness.
The cause of the crash was not immediately clear. The National Transportation Safety Board arrived at the crash site at 3:15 a.m. Wednesday and took control of the investigation.
An officer with the park police found the wreckage shortly after midnight, said George Fedorczyk, chief of the department.
“Due to the remote location of the scene and the limited visibility, it was determined at that point that the investigation would be suspended until sometime after daybreak,” he said at a morning news conference Wednesday. “Know that our thoughts are with the pilots, their families and the media community.”
WPVI-TV reported that it leases the helicopter from U.S. Helicopters Inc., which is based in North Carolina. In a statement issued Wednesday evening, the company said, “We deeply sympathize with their families and share in their grief as a result of this tragic event.”
Emails seeking comment were sent Wednesday to New Jersey State Police, the New Jersey State Park Police and the FAA.
There have been other deadly helicopter crashes involving staff from television stations in the United States. Among them was a July 2007 crash, when two helicopters from KNXV-TV and KTVK-TV collided over Phoenix while covering a police chase. Four people — both pilots and two photographers — were killed.
In November, a pilot and a meteorologist who worked for a North Carolina television station died when a news helicopter crashed along a Charlotte-area interstate, with police praising the pilot for heroically avoiding the road in his final moments.