A helicopter's main rotor fell off before it crashed onto a highway median, killing all five aboard, said a witness and authorities. Three of the Trump Organization's top casino executives, including native Utahn Stephen Hyde, were among the victims.
"There was a loud bang, like a piston rod going," said Tom Murray, 38, of East Providence, R.I., who was camping near the site of Tuesday afternoon's crash, a wooded thicket between north- and southbound lanes of the Garden State Parkway."It fell below the tree line and I didn't see it crash," he said. "It went straight down. . . . It seemed like an eternity watching it."
No one on the ground was hurt.
State police Sgt. Anthony Aceto said the main rotor was found a quarter-mile from the crash site about 30 miles north of Atlantic City, where the helicopter was returning the executives from New York City.
The National Transportation Safety Board investigators were looking into a rotor malfunction, said Frank Ghiorsi, the agency's regional director.
"If the main rotor separated from the rest of the aircraft, it was out of control," Ghiorsi told reporters.
He said investigators were looking for the tail rotor to help them re-create the problem. Investigators say the loss of one of the two rotors could have caused the other to fall off.
Trump spokesman Dan Klores identified the executives as Stephen Hyde, 43, chief executive officer of Trump's Atlantic City casino operations; Mark G. Etess, 38, president of the Taj Mahal casino project; and, Jonathan Benanav, 33, senior vice president of Trump Plaza casino hotel.
Hyde, born in Kaysville, is a graduate of Weber State College and Utah State University. Survivors include his wife Donna and seven children; father Noall and brother Dee, both of Kaysville.
"They were three fabulous young men in the prime of their lives," billionaire developer Donald Trump said in a statement from his New York office. "No better human beings ever existed. We're deeply saddened by this devastating tragedy. Our hearts go out to their families."
The New York Daily News, quoting an unidentified source, said Trump had been scheduled to take the one-hour flight to Atlantic City but had canceled at the last moment because he got too busy.
The others killed were pilot Robert Kent of Ronkonkoma, N.Y., and co-pilot Lawrence Diener of Westbury, N.Y., state police said.
The helicopter, a 1982 Agusta 109A, was leased from Paramount Aviation of Lincoln Park and had taken off from Manhattan for Atlantic City, officials said. Officials at Paramount Aviation said they could not answer questions about the crash.
Traffic was delayed because of the crash, but the roadway remained open.