The crew members have a long history with our station and have been working as part of the Action News team for years.
PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- Action News continues to mourn the loss of two members of our 6abc team after Chopper 6 tragically crashed Tuesday in Burlington County, New Jersey.
A pilot and a photographer were in the helicopter when it went down in Washington Township, New Jersey just after 8 p.m. They were returning from an assignment at the Jersey Shore.
The pilot was 67-year-old Monroe Smith of Glenside, Pa. and the photographer was 45-year-old Christopher Dougherty of Oreland, Pa.
They have a long history with our station, with Smith being a part of the Action News team through U.S. Helicopters for over 20 years and Dougherty for 18 years.
The loss of the crew members is being felt here at Action News and beyond as investigators search for answers into what caused the crash.
"Our hearts are just broken for these men. They're broken for their families," reporter Katherine Scott said during a report on Action News. "We just can't believe this has happened."
Pete Kane, who is a retired Philadelphia journalist, was friends of Monroe Smith since high school. They also used to fly together.
"We had the same goals: that was to do the job the best we could do it. And I think we both did that. He did it till the end," said Kane.
Smith was a retired army pilot who was so proud of his son who was also a military pilot. He also has a new grandbaby.
Dougherty is survived by two daughters and a wife. He was said to play guitar in the office from time to time while waiting for his next assignment.
The chopper took off from the Northeast Philadelphia Airport before 7:30 p.m. and the crew flew to an assignment near Galloway Township, New Jersey. The crew was on their way back to base when the aircraft crashed.
Flight tracker data shows the helicopter's altitude dropping while returning to Philadelphia. Chopper 6 was last airborne over Wharton State Forest before it crashed in a remote section of the woods.
"Preliminary air traffic control data shows the aircraft was sitting there and was on course at the time when the accident occurred," said Todd Gunther, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigator-in-charge. "Tree strike images show it was in a descending pattern, in other words, it was descending when it impacted the trees."
New Jersey State Park Police say a debris field was located shortly after midnight a few hundred yards from Mullica River Road, in the area of Middle Road and Quaker Bridge Atsion Road in Washington Twp.
A helicopter from a fellow Philadelphia television station captured video of the wreckage. Scattered debris, with some pieces on fire or smoking, could be seen as authorities searched with flashlights in the darkness.
The area is part of the New Jersey Pinelands, a million-acre wilderness area that stretches across more than seven counties and features dense woods, rivers and rare plant species.
The Federal Aviation Administration arrived at the crash site at 3:15 a.m. Wednesday and took control of the scene. The NTSB will lead the investigation.
"Due to the remote location of the scene and the limited visibility, it was determined at that point that the investigation would be suspended until sometime after daybreak," said Chief George Fedorczyk of the New Jersey State Park Police. "Know that our thoughts are with the pilots, their families and the media community."
State park police say Quaker Bridge Road, Mullica River Road and Middle Road - all unpaved local roads within the forest - were closed as the investigation continues.
Chopper 6 was a 2013 American Eurocopter AS-350 Astar, which 6abc leases from U.S. Helicopters Inc. based in North Carolina.
U.S. Helicopters said in a statement the pilot and photographer were "beloved" long-time employees of the company.
"We deeply sympathize with their families and share in their grief as a result of this tragic event. We will share arrangements in accordance with the families' wishes," the statement reads.
"We will cooperate with the FAA and other authorities during their investigation and are still gathering information, so we cannot comment or provide further information on the cause of this tragedy," the statement continued. "Our thoughts and prayers are with the families of our cherished colleagues."
During a Friday afternoon news conference, Gunther said the team has been "charting the wreckage," looking to see where the wreckage path began and ended.
Officials originally said the debris field from the helicopter was 100 yards, but Gunther said it is now about 200 yards long.
"We've determined that the approach path, or approach angle if you will, into the trees from the flight was very shallow. The aircraft hit at a very high speed, and after striking trees, it fragmented. The direct path, which we initially got the information from the FAA, which had measured, initially we thought was about 100 yards long," Gunther said.
The debris field is now believed to have doubled.
"It then traveled through the woods, through those 200 yards, before coming to rest. It was subjected to a post-crash fire. "Our examinations have also indicated that there was no type of in-flight fire or type of explosion with the aircraft"
Gunther said the four main rotor blades have been recovered.
"There are breaks in the main rotor blades that indicate that the helicopter's main rotor was turning when it impacted the trees, and indicates that it was under power at the time," he said.
Both tail rotors were also broken.
"We confirmed that we have all four corners of the helicopter. That means we've got the nose, we have the tail, and then we have both sides. It appears on all major portions of the helicopter... are on scene," Gunther said.
He said officials will now move the wreckage to a secure site and then build a 2-D reconstruction of the aircraft.
Gunther said eight people are working on the accident, including an engine specialist and an airframe -- or helicopter -- specialist. They are also being assisted by local, state, county and federal authorities.
The information and records the NTSB will examine include flight track data, air traffic control communications, maintenance records, weather conditions, the pilot's license and flight experience, a 72-hour background check of the pilot, witness statements, and potential information from electronic devices and any available surveillance video - including doorbell cameras.
Investigators are expected to be on scene for roughly three days before the helicopter is taken to a secure facility for a more in-depth evaluation.
"During the on-scene phase of the investigative process, the NTSB does not determine or speculate about the cause of the accident," said spokesperson Jennifer Gabris.
"Anything we go ahead and report is factual in nature," Gunther added.
Gunther explained that after the team leaves the scene in approximately 10 days, they will produce a preliminary report, which will include the facts, conditions and circumstances as they know them.
Roughly 18 months after the preliminary report is completed, the NTSB will produce what they call a "factual report," which will be composed of documents that support the investigation, including photos, witness statements and any types of tests or research that may have been done.
Another 30 to 60 days after that, the safety board, which is comprised of five members appointed by President Biden, will release a statement of probable cause.
Gunther noted that at any time during the investigation, they can release recommendations if they find anything of concern that would impact the traveling public, aerospace industry or other industries.
A complete investigation into the cause of the crash could take one to two years.
Chopper 6 and those who fly in it play an integral role in our news-gathering operation, accessing areas that are difficult to reach by ground, giving us everything from weather and beauty shots, traffic backups, and important information about news of the day.
The first helicopter to serve as Chopper 6 launched in February 1980.
It was the first TV news helicopter in Philadelphia.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.