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Life of pilot aboard helicopter in fatal crash recalled

David Jenny was the only certified pilot on board

By Yvonne Wenger, Michael Dresser and Kevin Rector, The Baltimore Sun

9:56 PM EDT, July 30, 2013

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A small helicopter, stenciled with Ray Lewis' number 52, flew over M&T Bank Stadium during the Ravens' last home game in January, honoring the legendary linebacker.

Pilot David Jenny arranged the flight as a bit of guerrilla marketing for Fort Meade-based Monumental Helicopters, which offers tours, photography and instruction. But really it was just another way for Jenny to log some air time, his brother, Josh Jenny, said Tuesday.

Flying was a thrilling escape for his brother, who lived in Towson, Josh Jenny said. David Jenny was one of five people killed in a helicopter crash Saturday night near Scranton, Pa. Three of the victims were from Maryland, including a father and daughter, Bernard M. Kelly, 58, of Ellicott City, and Leanna M. Kelly, 27, of Savage.

Carl R. Woodland, 29, of Lovettsville, Va., and his 3-year-old son, Noah, were also killed.

While authorities haven't disclosed who was flying the helicopter when it crashed, David Jenny, 30, was the only certified pilot on board. He also was an authorized flight instructor, according to an Federal Aviation Administration database. Woodland was issued a student pilot certificate in February.

Josh Jenny declined to discuss the details of the crash, but he did say his brother first started flying about three years ago and recently helped launch Monumental Helicopters.

"He felt the need to make the very most out of everything," said Josh Jenny, 27. "That's a philosophy that I take on. When you have the opportunity to do anything you can, you have to do everything you can to make up for the people who don't have the same privilege.

"With helicopters there was no limitation on where he could take things."

The families of the Kellys and Woodlands declined to comment Tuesday.

Authorities also have not released details about the purpose of Saturday's flight, or where it originated. At the time of the crash, the helicopter was on its way from Tri Cities Airport in Endicott, N.Y., where it refueled, to Jake Arner Memorial Airport in Lehighton, Pa.

The deaths were ruled accidental by the Wyoming County, Pa., coroner's office. All victims died of traumatic injuries.

The National Transportation Safety Board is conducting an investigation. Its preliminary report is not expected before next week. The agency's final conclusions could take a year or more.

The cause of the crash has not been determined, but authorities said the helicopter lost contact with air traffic controllers in nearby Wilkes-Barre after the pilot radioed to ask for directions to a local airport. Heavy fog and thunderstorms were crossing northeastern Pennsylvania around 10:20 p.m. Saturday, the time when investigators estimate the helicopter went down.

Loretta Conley, a spokeswoman for Robinson Helicopter Co., said in an email that the company could not comment on the crash because it is "participating in NTSB's accident investigation."

The model of helicopter in which the five were flying — the Robinson R66 — had been involved in four previous fatal crashes that took six lives since it was introduced two years ago, according to the NTSB's aviation accident database. The families of two of those victims, who died in a July 2011 crash in South American nation of Colombia, have sued Robinson Helicopter Co. and two of its suppliers, claiming that the accident was caused by a defect in the fuel system.

Robinson CEO Kurt Robinson dismissed the law firm's claims as "meritless" last year in comments to an industry website associated with Aviation International News.

"Our mantra has always been to develop safe, reliable helicopters that everybody could fly and enjoy," Robinson said. "We absolutely have a great concern for safety for all the people who are flying the aircraft, including our own families and employees."

Robinson has reported strong sales of its five-seat R66 model, which starts at $830,000. The California-based company announced in December that it had doubled production from three a week to six in 2012. Last year, the model received FAA certification for police use. Robinson also produces a two-seat and a four-seat model, which is the world's top-selling helicopter.

Conley did not respond to additional questions about the helicopter's safety record.

Records from the FAA show the helicopter involved in Saturday's accident was owned by the manufacturer. But it's not clear from whom the group leased the helicopter.

Monumental Helicopters is owned by Towson-based Sierra Delta LLC. On Tuesday, Christia Raborn, Sierra Delta's owner, said her company employed Jenny on a contractual basis to fly tour helicopters for Monumental, but that Jenny had been on vacation for several weeks when the accident occurred.

The helicopter involved was not leased, registered or owned by Sierra Delta, Raborn said, and the flight was not chartered by either company.

"We know very little about it," she said of the crash.

She declined to comment further out of respect for the families involved.

Monumental Helicopters is located at Tipton Airport in Fort Meade, a runway that leases hangars to small companies.

Curtis Zellner, the airport's operations supervisor, said Jenny was a regular face on the grounds, popping into the airport offices often to take care of business for Monumental and chat with the office staff.

"He had a nice personality. He was friendly with everybody," Zellner said.

Several staff members at the office who declined to give their names shared similar sentiments. They also said they had seen Jenny late last week, preparing for a trip.

People who frequent small airports develop a bond, Zellner and others at Tipton said, and become close. Everyone in the office was hit hard by Jenny's death and thinking about the families involved, Zellner said.

"My wife worries about me when I go up," Zellner said.

Josh Jenny said his family learned of the accident around 5 p.m. Sunday, and he made the nearly two-hour drive that night with his father from their Kintnersville, Pa., home to a spot near the crash scene where "we confirmed the worst."

The wreckage of the heavily fragmented helicopter was discovered around 2 p.m. that day in a rugged, wooded area near Noxen, Pa.

"Dave and I would talk every day," Josh Jenny said. "Every time we talked on the phone, it was so invigorating. The plan was for me to get my pilot's license so I could begin flying with him."

David Jenny, the son of a nurse and a forklift operator, moved to Maryland about five years ago. He was a 2001 graduate of Palisades High School in Kintnersville, 45 miles north of Philadelphia, and went on to earn an associate's degree in computer science from Bucks County Community College, Josh Jenny said.

Josh Jenny said his brother had produced websites and turned a fascination with cars into a business creating a hybrid between Toyota MR2s with an Asian motor and an American body. While he trained to become a helicopter pilot, he worked in fugitive recovery for an Fairfax, Va.-based bail bond firm.

"He was entrepreneurial — the only job he had was washing dishes at a pizza place when he was 14 and he had enough of answering to someone else," Josh Jenny said. "I learned quite a bit from him."

David Jenny inherited his love of flying from his grandfather, who was a pilot, his brother said. Hanging in their family workshop is a photo of their grandfather as a 10-year-old in a toy airplane their great-grandfather built in the 1920s.

The brothers were raised along the Delaware River in Bucks County, where their family raised Siberian husky sled dogs for racing. And as they grew into adults, they tried to outdo each other driving go-karts and boats and race cars, Josh Jenny said.

"It was sort of like a sibling rivalry to see who would operate the most incredible piece of machinery. I always felt behind the eight-ball," Josh Jenny said.

Three years ago when David Jenny hovered over the family home in a helicopter, Josh Jenny recalled racing out and seeing his brother, knowing he'd just lost for good.

"He just had an incredible fortitude to learn new things," Josh Jenny said. "He was never afraid to be the person to just dive into something. He had tremendous ambitions. We were all very proud of him. He lived life to the fullest."

Services for David Jenny will be private.

Baltimore Sun reporter Carrie Wells contributed to this article.

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