3 dead after helicopter, small plane collide in Maryland

WASHINGTON — Three people were killed and two were injured on Thursday when a helicopter conducting training exercises collided midair with a small plane in Frederick County, Maryland.

The collision happened just after 3:40 p.m. near the southwest corner of the Frederick Municipal Airport, according to the Federal Aviation Administration.

The three men in the helicopter were killed. The Maryland State Police have identified them as Christopher Parsons, 29, of Westminster, Maryland; William Jenkins, 47, of Morrison, Colorado; and Breandan MacFawn, 35, of Cumberland, Maryland. Police are not sure yet who was piloting the helicopter.

The men in the plane — pilot Scott Graeves, 55, of Brookeville, Maryland; and passenger Gilbert L. Porter, 75, of Sandy Spring, Maryland — were taken by ambulance to Meritus Medical Center, in Hagerstown, and released, the state police say.

In a statement, the FAA says a preliminary investigation shows that the plane — a Cirrus SR 22 — was approaching the airport, while the helicopter – – a Robinson R44 — was involved in a training exercise.

First responders found the airplane suspended vertically in a thin row of trees in the 500 block of Monocacy Boulevard, north of Patrick Street.

The plane had a parachute that deployed from the rear of the aircraft, according to Maryland State police spokesman Greg Shipley.

Police say the emergency personnel found the wreckage of the helicopter about one-tenth of a mile south of the airplane. It had crashed between two rows of storage units in a self storage facility near the intersection of Highland and Monroe streets.

The plane appeared to be largely intact, but the helicopter was demolished.

The helicopter was leased to Advanced Helicopter Concepts, a flight school at the airport, said Neal Lanning, the company’s owner. On Friday, Advanced Helicopter said it had suspended its operations to cooperate with the NTSB.

Tim Flanary, who works near the crash site, helped pull the men from the airplane.

“I heard a loud boom and ran out,” Flanary tells WTOP. “I saw the wind blowing a parachute in the air.”

Flanary says he and a coworker jumped into his truck and headed to the scene where the plane was hanging nose-down in a stand of trees, nearly touching the ground, with fuel leaking out of the left wing.

“We found two guys in the plane and got them out,” he says.

Flanary saw the wreckage from the helicopter, but said, “you couldn’t tell what it was.”

Flanary says neither man spoke about the crash: “They were obviously shaken up, but they seemed OK.”

Jesse Ault Jr. of Brunswick and his wife, Pamela, saw the airplane “spiraling out of control” before the crash, and that the pilot was hurt and shaken up.

“The pilot had blood up above his nose and on his face,” Ault said. “You could tell he was visibly shaken.”

WTOP’s Finn Neilsen talks with a man who saw the plane go down in this video:

The Frederick News-Post tweeted some pictures from the scene.

Shipley said the plane survivors were being questioned by police and National Transportation Safety Board investigators.

Brian Rayner, a senior air safety investigator for the NTSB, said the NTSB would interview the air traffic controllers at the Frederick tower, who were probably in control of both aircraft.

A transcript of the control tower conversation provided by LiveATC.net indicates the tower was working with two airplanes and three helicopters shortly before the crash.

“I have three helicopters below you in the traffic pattern,” the controller tells an inbound airplane.

“I have two of ’em in sight,” the pilot responds.

The controller then gives the airplane clearance to land. In the next second, the audio is overtaken by someone screaming, “Oh, God! Oh, God!”

Then someone tells the controller, “Frederick Tower 14 … airplane down and helicopter down.”

“Yes, yes. I just saw it,” the controller says frantically. “911 is on the way.”

The weather was cloudy and breezy, but that didn’t seem to be a factor in the collision, Rayner said.

According to the FlightAware aviation tracking website, the plane took off from Cleveland Regional Jetport in Cleveland, Tennessee.

Frederick County Fire Chief Denise Pouget says the investigation will take a while.

“It’s going to be a very lengthy process for them to compile the facts of what happened here,” Pouget says.

A helicopter of the same make and model belonging to the same company crashed on Interstate 70 about 15 miles west of Frederick in 2009, killing all four people aboard.

The NTSB ruled that crash an accident due to poor nighttime visibility on a fog- shrouded mountain.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. Follow @WTOP on Twitter and on the WTOP Facebook page.

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