Thunderstorms and heavy fog were rolling through northeastern Pennsylvania's rugged terrain Saturday night when a small helicopter crashed, killing all five people on board, including three from the Baltimore area.
The local medical examiner's office identified the passengers as Bernard Michael Kelly, 58, of Ellicott City; his daughter, Leanna Mee Kelly, 27, of Savage; David Ernest Jenny Jr., 30, of Towson; Carl Robert Woodland, 29, of Lovettsville, Va.; and his son, Noah Robert McKain Woodland, 3.
It's too soon for investigators to say if the bad weather and reduced visibility played a role in the accident near Noxen, Pa., just west of Scranton. A spokesman for the National Transportation Safety Board, which is handling the crash investigation, said it has only just begun its examination of the wreckage and has not determined the cause of the crash.
Jenny’s family is in "incomprehensible" pain, his brother, Joshua, said Tuesday.
Joshua Jenny called his brother "a truly great man whom countless people loved and adored."
Kyle Andersen, a friend of the Kelly family, released a statement on their behalf and said the family asked for privacy.
"The members of the family of Bernie Kelly and Leanna Kelly are devastated by their tragic and untimely loss, along with the loss of the other friends on board the helicopter that crashed in northeastern Pennsylvania this past weekend," the statement said.
A woman who answered the phone at the Jenny home in Kintnersville, Pa., identified herself as David Jenny's mother and said the family did not wish to speak publicly about their loss.
"We are struggling to put one foot in front of the other," she said. "We can barely speak to each other."
The mother of Carl Woodland also declined to comment when reached by telephone.
The Wyoming County, Pa., coroner's office ruled all the deaths accidental and said they were a result of traumatic injuries.
The Robinson R66 helicopter was on its way from Tri Cities Airport in Endicott, N.Y., to Jake Arner Memorial Airport in Lehighton, Pa., according to the Federal Aviation Administration, which also is investigating the crash.
The five-seat helicopter lost radar and communication contact shortly after its pilot radioed air traffic controllers in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., and requested directions to fly to a small airport in Tunkhannock, Pa., said Peter Knudson, an NTSB spokesman.
The helicopter's wreckage was discovered about 2 p.m. Sunday. Knudson said there was heavy fog in the area as rescuers attempted a search Saturday night and Sunday morning. The crash is believed to have happened about 10:20 p.m. Saturday, he said.
It's unclear who was piloting the helicopter at the time of the crash.
Phyllis Hayes, who has lived two houses down from the Kellys for 14 years, described Bernard Kelly as "just the nicest man you would ever want to meet." The family adopted two sets of twins from Korea, she said. Leanna Kelly was one of those children.
A couple of winters ago, Hayes said, she lost control of her car when her driveway became slick with ice, getting stuck in a snowbank. Bernard Kelly and another neighbor came to her rescue, with Kelly steering and the other neighbor pushing the car out, she said.
"It was just amazing," Hayes said.
Other neighbors of the Kellys declined to comment, either out of respect for the family or because they were too upset.
A former employer of Jenny's, Dave Gambale, said Jenny worked for him in fugitive recovery before leaving to pursue work as a helicopter pilot.
Gambale, owner of Freedom Bail Bonding in Fairfax, Va., said Jenny told him his dream was to be an Army warrant officer and fly combat helicopters. Jenny came to him without experience in the field of fugitive recovery, he said, but quickly excelled by finding innovative ways to track down people who skipped bail.
Jenny, who worked for Gambale for about three or four years, created Facebook accounts to communicate with fugitives and used GPS technology to learn about their whereabouts, Gambale said.
"His spirit and his drive were remarkable," Gambale said. "I haven't seen that since I have been in the Marines. His will to work, he was so positive about everything."
Gambale recalled the joy Jenny described when discussing his plans to become a pilot.
"He knew he would do well at it, and I wished him luck," Gambale said. "He is a passionate man. Every day, he lives for the day. … He wanted more. He loved life.
"He is missed by all. He is loved by all. It's a sad day."
Gerard Corprew, who runs the tiny Tri Cities Airport in Endicott, recalled helping Woodland and his son settle into the airport's lounge area about 6 p.m., where the two watched TV and played with a yellow truck and other toys.
Corprew said he didn't ask any questions about their trip, but records show the helicopter stopped Saturday to refuel in the New York village twice, once at 4 p.m. and again at 8 p.m.
"When I realized that was them, it was tragic and it was a blow, because I got the chance to play with the son, the little boy," Corprew said. "He was having fun. He was a happy little boy. I just set them up in a lounge and told them, 'I've got to go home, have fun' and [to] make themselves at home."
Corprew, who has worked at the airport for about five years, said that when he left for the day about 6:45 p.m., it was raining and thunderstorms were approaching. He said he "thought twice" about whether it was safe to fly and, in the time since the accident, he's been "second-guessing" himself.
"If I stayed a little bit longer, maybe I could have met the pilot and convinced him not to fly," Corprew said.
Knudson said the helicopter, which was "heavily fragmented" after the crash, contained a device that kept records on engine operations and that it would be reviewed by investigators to see whether it could shed light on what caused the crash. There are not believed to be any witnesses.
FAA records indicate the helicopter was owned by its manufacturer, Robinson Helicopter Co. in California. NTSB investigators plan to be on the scene for several days, Knudson said.