According to a preliminary incident report by the NTSB, “Several minutes after takeoff, the pilot reported … that he was unable to control engine rpm with throttle inputs.” TMZ was first to report the news.
The country singer — one half of the popular duo Montgomery Gentry — and his pilot died Friday around 1 p.m. when their helicopter crashed near Medford, New Jersey; he and bandmate Eddie Montgomery were set to play a show in the same town that evening.
According to the report, when the pilot realized the engine failure, he turned off the engine and opted to perform an autorotation — a procedure during which an aircraft flies via air moving up through its rotors — to land the helicopter.
“During the descent, the rotor [rotations per minute] decayed to the point where the instructor could see the individual rotor blades. The helicopter descended from view prior to reaching the runway threshold and the sounds of impact were heard,” the report reads. “Both instructors reported that a high-pitched ‘whine’ could be heard from the helicopter during the latter portion of the descent.”
The remains of the plane were found approximately 220 feet prior to the edge of the runway.
The report goes on to state that pilot James Evan Robinson had extensive experience with the aircraft, a Schweitzer 269 Charlie 1. Of his 480.9 total hours of flight experience, over 300 hours had been accrued in the fatal helicopter’s make and model.
Brian Rayner, senior air safety investigator with the National Transportation Safety Board, previously told PEOPLE that Gentry’s helicopter ride is being described as “impromptu, spur of the moment.”
Says Rayner, “[It was a] ‘Would you like to go for a helicopter ride?’ “
“Not long after takeoff, the pilot announced over the airport frequency – which was being monitored by a number of people – that he was having difficulty controlling engine RPM,” says Rayner. “A couple of different responses to that challenge were discussed, and he was performing an auto rotational descent to runway one.”
Continues Rayner, “The helicopter landed short of the runway in low brush, it was substantially damaged and the occupants were fatally injured.”
In a statement about the tragic accident, the Flying W said, “The day started with such excitement as the Montgomery Gentry bus rolled through our gates. The nicest people got off the bus and joined us on the ramp for what we hoped would be the best concert we have ever had. Sadly this was not to be.”
Gentry was 50 years old; he is survived by wife Angie and daughters Kaylee and Taylor. A public memorial will be held in Nashville on Thursday.