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5 dead after tourist helicopter crashes in Smoky Mountains

SEVIERVILLE, Tenn.-- Officials say five people have died in the crash of a tourist helicopter in East Tennessee near Sevierville.

A Federal Aviation Administration spokeswoman says the Bell 206 sightseeing helicopter crash was reported at 3:30 p.m. Monday. Spokeswoman Kathleen Bergen said in an email that officials said the helicopter was destroyed by fire.

The Pigeon Forge Police Department Chief Jack Baldwin said there's not much left in the wreck scene. A fire started at the crash scene and is spreading up the mountain, CBS affiliate WVLT reported.

He said this is the worst helicopter crash he's ever seen.

"There's not much left of the helicopter," he said. "It's pretty much gone from the fire."

Tennessee Emergency Management Association spokesman Dean Flener confirmed late Monday afternoon that five people had died. Flener said no homes were damaged and no one on the ground was injured when the helicopter went down.

National Transportation Safety Board spokesman Chris O'Neil says two investigators from the agency are headed to the scene of the crash.

Representatives from Bell Helicopter, Textron Aviation, Rolls Royce and the FAA are also going to the scene.

Pigeon Forge Fire Department said units were at the scene.

Shawn Matern said he was inside his parents' house when he heard a loud boom. "That's when we came out and saw the second explosion right before our eyes," he said.

He said he saw the pilot roll out of the burning helicopter on the ground and a neighbor went to try to help.

Matern said the tour helicopters fly over three or four times a day in that area.

About four hours after the crash, more than a dozen emergency vehicles were at the site, which is less than a mile from a large outlet mall in Sevierville and adjacent to a neighborhood off the main tourist drag. The site is about three miles from Dolly Parton's Dollywood theme park.

Gary C. Robb, a Kansas City attorney who wrote a book on helicopter crash litigation, says it's far too early to determine the cause of the Sevierville crash, but some helicopter tour operators have been known to be reckless to "thrill the tourists" by flying too close to trees or waterfalls or by dangerous maneuvers.

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