PIGEON FORGE, Tenn. — The tail rotor of a helicopter may not have had power at the moment the aircraft crashed into trees on the top of a ridge last week, killing the pilot and four people sightseeing near the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, according to a preliminary report the National Transportation Safety Board released Monday.
The report lists some of the initial findings of the investigation without speculating on the cause of the crash.
The report found the Bell 206 had plenty of fuel and the weather was clear. The helicopter was current on inspections and had already gone on several flights that morning.
Another helicopter pilot in the area reported hearing no distress call, but an on-the-ground witness told investigators the helicopter "didn't sound right" before the crash.
The witness saw the helicopter flying low in a descent, according to the report.
"He further described the sound as if 'the engine was wound tight' and it 'lost the rotor sound.' He then heard the engine go silent, 'as if the pilot cut the power,'" the report states.
The helicopter, which was operated by Smoky Mountain Helicopters, was on a short sightseeing flight in the east Tennessee tourist town of Pigeon Forge when it crashed about a little after 4 p.m. on April 4.
It first hit trees at the top of a ridge about 1,100 feet above sea level then came to a rest at the bottom of the ridge and went up in flames, according to the preliminary report.
An investigative report on the probable cause of the crash could take a year or more.