6 killed after Vietnam-era helicopter crashes in West Virginia during ‘Huey’ reunion

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Six people were killed after a Vietnam-era helicopter crashed while visiting West Virginia on Wednesday night, authorities said.

The Bell UH-1B helicopter, known as the “Huey,” crashed around 5 p.m. on a rural road in Logan County, W.Va., according to the Federal Aviation Administration. The helicopter crashed near Blair Mountain, in a mountainous part of the state.

The plane had been used for sightseeing flights in the area, Ray Bryant, chief operating officer for Logan Emergency Management Authority, told WSAZ. The helicopter, which is owned by Marpat Aviation, was part of an annual gathering this week for enthusiasts of the historic “Huey” aircraft.

The names of the victims have not been released, but Bryant told local media that they were not from the area.

The cause of the crash remains unclear, authorities said. The Logan County Office of Emergency Management had issued a severe thunderstorm watch for the county at the time of the incident.

“After first responders arrived at the scene, they were later able to confirm that six people were killed in this accident,” Sonya Porter, deputy director of the Logan County Office of Emergency Management, told The Washington Post.

The FAA and the National Transportation Safety Board said they were investigating the incident. The NTSB said that it was sending a team of five investigators and a family support specialist to the scene of the accident.

Mike Holbrook, the owner and operator of Marpat Aviation, did not immediately respond to a request for comment early Thursday.

The Bell UH-1B helicopter was manufactured in 1962 and used in the Vietnam War, according to the FAA. The crashed Huey had also been featured in several movies, including “Die Hard,” “The Rock” and “Baywatch.”

Huey’s seventh annual meeting began Tuesday and was scheduled to continue through Sunday, according to Marpat’s website. Enthusiasts of the historic aircraft could make a reservation at Logan County Airport to fly the helicopter without being a pilot, the website says. A donation of $250 was required for those who wanted to fly for 30 minutes to help cover fuel. Those who wanted to ride could do so by making a small donation.

“We want all helicopter enthusiasts (especially Huey) to have the opportunity to fly/ride in this historic helicopter,” the website says.

Porter told the Post that in addition to Huey’s reunion, the town of Logan’s Freedom Festival was also taking place.

“I don’t know if they were in those events or where they came from,” she said.

When crews arrived on Route 17 near Kelly Hollow shortly after the crash, the helicopter was still on fire, Bryant told WSAZ. Authorities said the front end of the helicopter appeared to have crashed through a guardrail and into the hill. Bryant told local media that one of the helicopter owners arrived at the scene but did not say if it was Holbrook.

“Everyone is saddened that this happened in our county, and they are upset about the incident,” Porter told West Virginia MetroNews.

Governor Jim Justice (RW.Va.) tweeted that he and his wife, Cathy, were “praying for the families of those killed in this tragic helicopter crash.”

The road is temporarily closed and it is unclear when it will reopen, WCHS reported.

Witnesses recounted the intensity of the fire after the crash. Bobbi Childs, who lives about a mile from where the helicopter crashed, told WSAZ she saw at least one person trapped in the plane as the flames passed it.

“I ran as fast as I could and got under the guardrail and up to the helicopter,” Childs said. “But the fire was so hot, so intense, and this guy couldn’t get out of it.”

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