Pilot killed when helicopter hits power lines while crop dusting identified

UNION COUNTY, N.C. — A pilot who was killed when a helicopter crashed Thursday afternoon near New Salem in Union County at the Stanly County line has been identified, officials said.

The accident happened near N.C. Highway 205, which is near Swift Road. The pilot was identified as 54-year-old Andrew Stephen.

The Bell B206 helicopter was spraying crops at 3:50 p.m. when it struck a power line and crashed into a heavily wooded area, FAA officials said in a statement.

No one else was aboard.

It was an unusual sight for residents and investigators in the Union County farming community.

"They're getting ready for the next crop, so yeah they're crop dusting and spraying the field. It's normal this kind of year," said resident Julia York.

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In the quiet farming community of New Salem, residents expect to see land being prepared for next year's crops.

"He was actually spraying a herbicide in the timber," said Tony Underwood, with the Union County Sheriff's Office.

Investigators believe Stephen was flying about 30 to 35 feet above the ground.

"Apparently he got too low and became entangled in a power line and unfortunately the helicopter went straight to the ground," said Underwood.

The view from Chopper 9's Skyzoom showed the wreckage and a downed power line, which took down the pilot and helicopter in a wooded area.

"The cabin area where the pilot was sitting is still somewhat intact but (the rest) is broken into pieces," said Underwood.

York has lived in the area her whole life and can't recall an incident like what happened Thursday. She said neighbors said everyone started calling each other.

"Which is scary. I grew up on a farm. I'm from a farm. That's scary, because I know people from around here. It worries you, because you don't know who it might be," said York.

Investigators said Stephens was from Florida and had a partner, who witnessed the crash, working in the field below.

"They were a contract company out of Florida and apparently they go all along to the East Coast doing contract jobs such as the one behind me," said Underwood.

Dozens of agencies responded to the crash but couldn't save the pilot.

"It's very sad, very tragic, especially if he was just doing a job, to only gotten tangled in the power lines," said Underwood.

Investigators said the pilot's family in Florida has been notified.

Deputies secured the crash site Thursday as they waited for national investigators to arrive Friday morning from Washington, D.C.

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