'Beloved' local Philadelphia news helicopter pilot and photojournalist killed in tragic Chopper 6 crash in New Jersey forest

 December 21, 2023

Tragedy befell the tight-knit community of local journalists in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania when a news helicopter working for one of the local stations crashed Tuesday night while returning from an assignment, the New York Post reported.

Local ABC affiliate WPVI's Action News Chopper 6 reportedly went down in the heavily wooded Wharton State Forest area of New Jersey, killing both the pilot and photojournalist who were on board the helicopter that was flying back to Philadelphia from the Jersey Shore.

An investigation is now underway involving local authorities and law enforcement led by the Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board.

Pilot and photojournalist killed in local news chopper crash

WPVI reported that its Action News team was mourning the loss of its two members, pilot Monroe Smith, 67, and photojournalist Christopher Dougherty, 45, who both "have a long history with our station and have been working as part of the Action News team for years."

During a live news report about the crash, reporter Katherine Scott said, "Our hearts are just broken for these men. They're broken for their families. We just can't believe this has happened."

Reporter Maggie Kent, after speaking with colleagues of the crash victims at the Northeast Philadelphia Airport where Chopper 6 was based, said, "They are described as the best guys that you would want to know, on the job for decades. They are highly skilled in what they do. They loved their craft."

Federal investigation launched over helicopter crash

CBS News reported that Chopper 6, an American Eurocopter AS350B2 helicopter, which was contracted to the local station via U.S. Helicopters, went down shortly after 8 pm Tuesday, though the crash site and wreckage in the thickly wooded area weren't discovered until hours later.

An initial search of that location was also suspended until Wednesday morning due to low visibility and the remote location of the crash, according to New Jersey State Park Police Chief George Fedorczyk, who further noted that the FAA and NTSB would take the lead in investigating the incident once their teams were fully in place.

That investigation will focus on "flight track data, maintenance records, weather conditions, flight experience, and witnesses statements, among other records," and will also involve the eventual relocation of the helicopter's wreckage to a safe location. A preliminary NTSB report will likely be released within 30 days but it could be one to two years before the agency's final report is issued.

Friends and colleagues in mourning over loss of "beloved" pilot and photographer

"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," North Carolina-based U.S. Helicopters said of the "beloved" pilot and photographer who were killed in the crash, according to WPVI.

"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 company's statement added. "Our thoughts and prayers are with the families of our cherished colleagues."

Retired photojournalist Pete Kane was a close friend and former high school classmate of pilot Monroe Smith, and told CBS News, "Everyone that knew him loved him because he was very soft-spoken, he was a listener, he enjoyed telling you what he did in the service, and he enjoyed doing what he did," and added, "We're competitors at TV stations, but in reality, we're all friends. We all look out for each other and when one goes down, we all go down, you know? And that's what hurts."

Kane was also friends with Dougherty and told WPVI that often talked of his wife and two daughters over dinner, would sometimes play guitar while waiting at the office for an assignment, and was the type of person who would do anything he could to help out a friend in need.

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