A federal investigation into a fatal sightseeing helicopter crash in Pigeon Forge, Tenn. could take up to a year, according to the NTSB.

A pilot and four passengers died Monday afternoon when a helicopter from Smoky Mountain Helicopter crashed during a tour, NTSB Senior Safety Investigator Luke Schiada said.

The NTSB and FAA arrived on scene Tuesday morning and plan to give an update at 3 p.m. Tuesday.

Local authorities notified the FAA about the crash around 3:30 p.m. Officials told the FAA that a Bell 206 sightseeing helicopter was destroyed by fire. No word yet on who it is registered to.

"There was not much left of the helicopter," said Pigeon Forge Police Chief Jack Baldwin near the scene. "There's just a small piece of the tailwing and that's about what's left of the helicopter." He said one person was appeared to be thrown from the chopper in the crash.

"I came out and that's when I saw the second explosion and I go 'What was that?'" said witness Shawn Matern. "'That's when I came over closer and saw the guy rolling out of the helicopter screaming 'Help me! Help me!'"

Witnesses reported hearing explosions and seeing fire after the crash.

"A couple of our neighbors went over the river to see how he was doing," Matern said. "The guy asked him 'Are you still with me?' And the guy just shook his head, he raised his hand and the next few minutes he passed away."

According to FAA spokeswoman Kathleen Bergen, local authorities "will release the number of people on board, their names and conditions."

Then, the FAA will release the helicopter registration, according to Bergen.

The crash also sparked a forest fire that created massive plumes of smoke.

The Pigeon Forge Fire Department as well as six or seven other departments were responding to the scene.

The Tennessee Forestry Division also responded to the scene because the crash started a fire in the woods.

A photo of the fire from Riverview Circle, courtesy of Britnee Breeden.
A photo of the fire from Riverview Circle, courtesy of Britnee Breeden.

As of 8:45 p.m., the fire had been mostly contained. According to Nathan Waters, a spokesperson from Tennessee Forestry Division, it only burned about two to three acres. They worked Monday night to complete the fire lines to prevent it from spreading.

"We've just been trying to stay as far out of the way [of investigators] as possible," Waters said.

By late afternoon Monday, dozens of cars were parked across the river on Riverview Circle. Many drove there to share in the mourning of five lives. A number of cars drove by Tuesday morning too.

"At first, I thought it was just another brush fire, but then when I realized what was happening, it was very, very upsetting," said BJ Ellington, another witness. "I felt like I just needed to come here. I know I can’t do anything but I needed to be here."

"I think everybody’s pretty devastated," Ellington said.