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Advanced Helicopter Concepts

Advanced Helicopter Concepts

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chopper crash had been at charity eventBy DAVID DISHNEAU (AP) â€" 29 minutes agoHAGERSTOWN, Md.

— Four people killed when their helicopter crashed on a Maryland highway were returning from an event where they had given helicopter rides to raise money for troubled youth, authorities said Friday.The helicopter left Hagerstown about two hours after the event ended Thursday night, said Kitty Higgins, a National Transportation Safety Board member.

The pilot waited to return to Frederick because of weather.

Higgins said the pilot had about 630 hours of flight experience logged.The pilot and two of the people on board were employees of Frederick, Md.-based Advanced Helicopter Concepts.

The fourth person was a friend of theirs, Higgins said.

The cause is still unknown.Witnesses reported seeing the craft flying low when it hit power lines over the interstate, then saw sparks fly before the helicopter went down and burst into flames, Higgins said.The aircraft was engulfed when firefighters arrived at the scene minutes after receiving a call at 10:30 p.m.

Thursday, said Washington County emergency services director Kevin Lewis.

No vehicles on the highway were hit when the helicopter smashed into the eastbound lanes of Interstate 70.

There were no injuries on the ground.Gary Smith, an instructor for Advanced Helicopter Concepts, said Friday morning that the company had suffered a "huge loss.""We thank everyone for their support and understanding during this difficult time," he said, declining to release further details.

Smith said the company was cooperating with National Transportation Safety Board investigators.

The company trains pilots, takes photographers on aerial tours and fixes and sells helicopters, according to its Web site.Advanced Helicopter Concepts' office sits at the end of a hangar at Frederick Municipal Airport, where small planes could be seen taking off and landing Friday morning.

Several cars were parked outside the office.Visibility was somewhat limited by fog at the time of the crash, but it wasn't clear if weather played a role, Lewis said.

Storms had passed through the area earlier in the night.Troopers temporarily shut down lanes in both directions at the crash site near Smithsburg, which is about 10 miles east of Hagerstown, and Lewis said there were downed power lines in the interstate.

The highway was reopened early Friday.Wreckage could be seen just off the shoulder of the three eastbound lanes.

A blade jutted out from twisted metal.

The wreckage is almost directly beneath a set of power lines.Federal Aviation Administration records list the owner of the four-seat Robinson R44 helicopter as Marsan Aviation Inc., of Wilmington, Del.

Telephone messages weren't immediately returned early Friday by an attorney for Marsan listed in FAA records.Maryland State police, who are in charge of the investigation, declined to release the victims' names until family members were notified.

Investigators from the NTSB and the FAA were also at the scene west of the Washington County-Frederick County line, on the western slope of a ridge known as South Mountain.Maryland State police spokesman Greg Shipley said the bodies were being taken to the state medical examiner in Baltimore.Frederick Municipal Airport Manager Kevin Daugherty said Friday morning he was shocked by news of the accident.

He said Advanced Helicopter Concepts had been at the airport for well over 10 years and was a "top-notch operation.""They run a very safe, efficient operation.

They're great tenants," Daugherty said.

"We are obviously very distraught over this.

We are all still in shock that this happened." He said he had spoken to employees of the company and that "they're grieving very much."Daugherty said operations at the airport continue as normal.Associated Press writer Ben Nuckols contributed to this report from Frederick, Md.Copyright © 2009 The Associated Press.

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