A helicopter carrying the country singer Troy Gentry, half of the country-music duo Montgomery Gentry, crashed Friday near the Flying W Airport & Resort in Medford, killing Gentry and the pilot hours before Montgomery Gentry was due to perform there.
Medford Township Police Chief Richard Meder said officers and medic units were dispatched about 12:40 p.m. to answer a distress call.
"When we arrived, the aircraft was still airborne," he said. "It crashed shortly thereafter, and some of my officers witnessed the helicopter going down."
The crash was in what the chief described as a swampy field just south of the runway, where the band had been slated to perform. Meder said that between 4,000 and 5,000 tickets had been sold for the concert.
There were no concertgoers at the airport when the crash happened, "but there were crews and people setting up," Meder said.
The chief said crews tried to extricate Gentry and pilot James Evan Robinson, 30, who was originally from Meigs, Ga., but had been living in the area. Meder said medics rushed Gentry to Virtua Hospital in Marlton, where he died.
Crews worked for hours to remove Robinson from the wreckage. He was pronounced dead at the scene.
Meder said Gentry had been at the airport earlier in the day preparing for the concert.
He "took off in the helicopter with the pilot to go somewhere and they were returning to the Flying W when the helicopter crashed," Meder said.
Melissa Davis, 33, who was eating dinner Friday night with her young son at the Mikado restaurant on Route 70 in nearby Evesham, said staff in the real estate office where she works became aware of the crash shortly after it happened.
"Everyone was talking about it," Davis said. "We all watched the news and were shocked."
Meder said his office did not know the make and model of the two-seat helicopter or who owned it, but said it had no connection to the airport.
He said four dozen officers from the Medford Township, Lumberton, and other police departments assisted in closing off roads and gathering witnesses.
About six to eight workers from the Burlington County Prosecutor's Office also helped secure the scene on Friday afternoon, according to county spokesman Joel Bewley.
Meder said Friday night that staff of the National Transportation Safety Board, which investigates such accidents, were en route to Medford.
"The area has been fully closed off, including the airport, the swim club, restaurant, bar, and hotel on site as an active investigation site," said Meder. "It will remain sealed and closed off into the weekend as FAA members and those from NTSB arrive to do their investigation."
On Friday night, Fostertown Road leading to the airport was closed and the crash site was sealed off. Vehicles were being turned away by officers all evening and there was a wall of police cars, whose flashing lights were often all that was recognizable in the darkness.
"It could be weeks before we know anything," Meder said.
The band's website called Gentry's death tragic and said details of the crash were unknown.
"Troy Gentry's family wishes to acknowledge all of the kind thoughts and prayers, and asks for privacy at this time," the website read.
Gentry, 50, was born in Lexington, Ky., where he met Eddie Montgomery and they formed an act based off their surnames. His home, the chief said, was in Franklin, Tenn.
Montgomery Gentry had success on the country charts and radio in the 2000s, scoring No. 1 hits, some of which cracked the pop chart. The band released its debut album, Tattoos & Scars, in 1999, and mixed country music with Southern rock. It was inducted into the Grand Ole Opry in 2009.
"This is truly a tragedy," Meder said. "There are a lot of people touched by this. You had band mates here, you had crew members here setting up, and, of course, you had those coming to see the concert.
"Our heartfelt sympathies go out to the families of both victims," Meder said. "We are all saddened by this."