RALEIGH, NC (AP) – A helicopter pilot and a meteorologist working for a North Carolina television station died Tuesday when a news helicopter crashed along a Charlotte-area interstate, with police praising the pilot for heroically avoiding the roadway in his last moments.
Meteorologist Jason Myers and pilot Chip Tayag were identified as the people killed in the crash in a statement by WBTV — and by colleagues who had reported the crash live from the station’s studio.
Anchors Jamie Boll and Molly Grantham fought back tears and mourned their colleagues as they gave updates during a broadcast that went on without interruption for hours. They included witness reports that Tayag prevented the helicopter from crashing on Interstate-77 during a busy week of holiday travel.
“Jamie and I are learning this while our newsroom is learning this and trying to figure it out while we’re grieving deeply …,” Grantham said during the broadcast. “We’re breaking the news, and we’re all — all — in our WBTV family grieving Chip and Jason because we love them.”
The Robinson R44 helicopter crashed shortly after noon local time with two people on board, the Federal Aviation Administration said in a statement. The Mecklenburg County EMS Agency said the two were pronounced dead at the scene.
Police said no vehicles on the ground were involved in the crash, which was still snarling traffic on the major highway.
“The pilot is a hero in my eyes,” tweeted Johnny Jennings, chief of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department. “Witnesses indicated that the pilot made diversionary maneuvers away from the highway to save lives. Due to his heroic actions, there were no further injuries or vehicles on the highway involved in the incident.”
The chief also told reporters, “We’re looking at going into the holiday season where we’re supposed to spend time with our loved ones. And tragically, there are two people involved in this crash who won’t go home and won’t spend the holidays with their families .”
Anchors Boll and Grantham spent at least 90 minutes providing live coverage before pausing to confirm the deaths of Myers and Tayag, after making sure their families were notified.
“The words are hard to come by people, we’ve been holding on to this for a while,” Boll said in a shaky voice before clearing his throat.
Boll had seen Tayag at 11 Tuesday morning as the pilot sat in the helicopter preparing to pick up Myers, the meteorologist.
“Those smiles you see right there on your screen, those are those two people,” Boll said from the anchor desk.
“Every single day in this newsroom, Chip would wave at you and say hello and ask you how you’re doing. He’d wave from behind the pilot’s chair in the helicopter,” Boll said. “Jason Myers — I could go on and on. He’d go through this newsroom with incredible energy and smiles and just cared about everyone here.”
Raised in North Carolina’s Union and Catawba counties, Myers worked in the city of Raleigh and in Texas and Virginia before returning to the Charlotte area where he grew up, WBTV said. He and his wife Jillian have four children.
Tayag had been a pilot for more than 20 years, the station said. He began working for WBTV in 2017 and celebrated his three-year wedding anniversary in August, according to his Instagram page.
Governor Roy Cooper offered his condolences to the station and the North Carolina press corps as a whole.
“This is a terrible tragedy for the WBTV family and we are praying for them and all those in the media who work so hard to keep the public informed,” Cooper wrote in a tweet.
The National Transportation Safety Board will lead an investigation into the accident along with the FAA.
Finley reported from Norfolk, Va.