LOGAN — A Vietnam-era helicopter showcased in action movies crashed on a rural West Virginia road, killing all six people on board, during an annual reunion for helicopter enthusiasts.
The Federal Aviation Administration said the Bell UH-1B “Huey” helicopter crashed along Route 17 in Logan County about 5 p.m. Wednesday.
All six people on board were killed, said Ray Bryant, chief of operations for the Logan County emergency ambulance service authority. The helicopter crashed in clear weather on a road near the local airport, he said.
“The entire cab of it was on fire,” Bryant said in a phone interview Thursday.
“It was recognized by the first responders as being a helicopter from this area because we see it a lot,” he said.
The crash occurred during an annual reunion for helicopter enthusiasts at MARPAT Aviation in Logan. It was scheduled to begin Tuesday and end Sunday, according to MARPAT’s website.
During the event, visitors could sign up to ride or fly the historic helicopter, described by organizers as one of the last of its kind still flying.
The helicopter was flown by the 114th Assault Helicopter Company, “The Knights of the Sky,” in Vinh Long, Vietnam, throughout much of the 1960s, according to MARPAT. After the Huey returned to the U.S. in 1971, the website says, it was featured in movies like “Die Hard, “The Rock” and “Under Siege: Dark Territory.”
Neither reunion organizers nor MARPAT officials returned requests for comment Thursday.
U.S. Senator Joe Manchin, D-WV, issued a statement Thursday concerning the tragedy.
“Gayle and I are devastated to hear of the deaths of six people killed in a horrific helicopter crash in Logan County,” Manchin said. “This is a heartbreaking time for the families, friends and loved ones of those in the crash, and I know our entire state feels this loss. We extend our deepest condolences to the families of the victims and my staff and I stand prepared to support the Logan County authorities, first responders and entire community during this time of need.”
U.S. Senator Shelley Moore Capito, R-WV, also spoke about the crash.
“Devastating news out of Logan County last night,” Capito said. “Praying for the family members of those involved and our first responders on the scene.”
Patty Belcher, who lives nearby, was driving to the store when she came upon the crash.
“There was smoke so thick that you couldn’t hardly see nothing but smoke and flames,” she said by phone Thursday. “It was coming down the ditch line on the righthand side, and I said, ‘My God, I better turn around. It might catch this truck on fire.’ So I turned around and came back.”
The crash was near the Battle of Blair Mountain historic sites, where a deadly clash erupted a century ago as thousands of coal miners marched to unionize in West Virginia.
Bobbi Childs saw smoke and flames and got close enough to see a man who was trapped.
“I saw that there was a guy trapped, I guess the captain. I tried to get down to the door where he was at. You could see him plain as day. I tried to get to him, but the fire was too hot. I couldn’t get to him,” Childs told WOWK-TV.
The road was expected to remain closed for at least 24 hours. The FAA and the National Transportation Safety Board will investigate.