‘Yelling in pain’ | Cocke Co. police report details fatal helicopter crash

According to flightaware.com, the helicopter took off from the Gatlinburg-Pigeon Forge airport at 2:13 p.m..
One is dead and one is critically injured following the helicopter crash, officials said.
Published: Jan. 4, 2022 at 2:40 PM EST|Updated: Jan. 4, 2022 at 9:25 PM EST
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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) - A Cocke County Sheriff’s Office police report details the tragic scene that first responders found once arriving at a helicopter crash in December near the Cocke Co. and Sevier Co. line.

Multiple agencies, including Cocke County and Sevier County Sherriff’s Office, Sevier County EMS and the National Park Service, responded to a crashed Robinson R44 helicopter on Dec. 29, just shy of 3:00 p.m.

Once on the scene, CCSO Sgt. Keys and Deputy Sutton could hear a male yelling for help, the report said. They found a man and woman inside the remains of the helicopter, according to the report obtained by WVLT News.

“The male was yelling in pain, stating that he cannot move his legs and has a lot of pain in his lower back,” Sgt. Keys said.

Law enforcement personnel reportedly checked the woman and did not see any apparent injuries. However, they said she was “unresponsive and not moving.” After more officers, fire crews and paramedics arrived on the scene, the two were moved from the helicopter due to fuel leaking onto the ground, the report said.

“The male stated his name was Matt Jones and his passenger’s name was Julie Wagner,” Sgt. Keys stated in the report. According to officials, the man, identified as the pilot in the report, could not describe the events that occurred due to his injuries. He was taken to the hospital and the female was moved to be evaluated, according to the report.

A preliminary report from the Federal Aviation Administration differs. According to the report, the pilot died in the crash, which occurred for unknown reasons, and the passenger suffered severe injuries. WVLT News has reached out to the National Transportation Safety Board to confirm who was piloting the helicopter when it crashed but has not heard back as of Tuesday afternoon.

According to flightaware.com, the helicopter took off from the Gatlinburg-Pigeon Forge airport at 2:13 p.m. and was supposed to land at 2:26 p.m. but was last seen in the Sevierville area at 2:21 p.m.

With tail number N544SC, per a report from the FAA, the helicopter is registered to November Alpha LLC, a company that owns Touchstone Helicopters, a helicopter leaser out of California.

Touchstone Helicopters is owned by John Nielsen, and WVLT News has reached out to him for comment multiple times, but has not heard back.

Witnesses on the scene in December told WVLT News that the helicopter crashed near Baxter’s Orchard and was surrounded by “at least 40 fire trucks” when it first occurred.

A witness who said they live less than a tenth of a mile from the crash site spoke to WVLT News about the incident.

“As I was coming out of my house, you saw it just streak across; you couldn’t get to it fast enough,” the witness said. “It was incredibly loud, and you know something is wrong when something like that hits the side of a mountain that your house is attached to.”

WVLT News also spoke with a representative from Scenic Helicopter Tours, a tourist helicopter ride company in the area, who spoke on the flying conditions for the time of day it occurred.

“These weather conditions are not flyable,” they said.

This investigation continues and is being led by the NTSB.

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