Two people are dead after a fiery helicopter crash near Italy Wednesday, Ellis County Emergency Management officials said.
An experimental twin-engine Bell Helicopter 525 Relentless, with two people aboard, crashed about about 11:45 a.m. while performing flight test operations, Bell Helicopter said.
The names of those killed in the crash have not been released, but they are both Bell Helicopter employees. The company called this a "tragic day."
The aircraft came down in a field along Farm-to-Market Road 876 north of Chambers Creek and northwest of Italy.
The Federal Aviation Administration and National Transportation Safety Board are both investigating what caused the crash.
Much of the helicopter's debris was localized to the crash site, though parts of the helicopter were spotted hundreds of feet away, including a section of the helicopter's boom located approximately 1,500 feet to the southeast.
Aviation experts tell NBC 5 that widespread of a debris field can indicate that the helicopter started breaking up in the air before the crash. Witnesses on scene said it looked that way to them. Investigators will be looking closely at that possibility.
A second helicopter was following the experimental B525. Both choppers took off from Bell Helicopter's facility at Arlington Airport earlier in the day Wednesday. The company released the following statement after the crash:
On July 6, 2016, a Bell 525 was involved in an accident while conducting developmental flight test operations south of our Xworx facility in Arlington, Texas. Unfortunately, the accident resulted in a loss of two crew members. This is a devastating day for Bell Helicopter. We are deeply saddened by the loss of our teammates and have reached out to their families to offer our support. Bell Helicopter representatives are onsite to assess the situation and provide any assistance to local, state, and federal authorities. At this time we ask for your understanding as we work through all of the details. We will continue to provide updates as more information becomes available.
The helicopter was still in the testing phase and used a new kind of rotor system. Investigators will likely be looking into whether there was a problem with that system as well.
Neighbors say they see helicopters running training exercises over open fields in the area nearly every day. But they've never seen anything like this.
“It’s terrible, tragic for people to lose their life like this," said neighbor Cecil Randall. "But I guess it’s a job that they have to do and it’s very dangerous, especially on a windy day like today. The wind makes a helicopter do some crazy stuff.”
Investigators will be looking into whether the wind factored into the accident. They planned to stay on scene throughout Wednesday night looking for clues.
Initially, it appeared that the helicopter may have struck a nearby utility pole because the top of the pole is black and appears to have been charred. However, Trooper Lonny Haschel with the Texas Department of Public Safety said Brazos Electric Company investigated and determined the aircraft did not hit the pole. In addition, there was no power outage as a result of the crash.
The crash site is approximately 45 miles south of Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport.
NBC 5's Alice Barr and Frank Heinz contributed to this report.
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