2 die when gyrocopter crashes, catches fire in Clay County, sheriff says

Witness describes seeing experimental aircraft crash outside her home

Clay County deputies responded Saturday to a helicopter crash in the Melrose area. (WJXT)

MELROSE, Fla. – Two people died Saturday morning when an experimental helicopter known as a gyrocopter crashed and caught fire on private property off County Road 214 in the Melrose area of Clay County, Sheriff Michelle Cook said.

The sheriff said calls started coming in just after 10 a.m. Saturday about a crash in the private field near a house off 214 in the Melrose area. She said deputies and Fire Rescue responded and firefighters were able to put out a small fire, according to News 6 partner WJXT.

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According to an FHP report, at about 10:10 a.m., the gyrocopter crashed into a residential grassy field near County Road 214 and Melrose Road and caught fire on impact.

The two people inside died at the scene, troopers said.

Cook said the aircraft appeared to be a homemade gyrocopter and described it as “badly mangled and badly burned.”

News4JAX crews weren’t allowed near the scene. This was the closest image WJXT could get of the wreckage:

The gyroplane caught fire on impact after it crashed in this grassy field, according to troopers. (WJXT)

Cook said it landed within 100 feet of two buildings on either side.

“Unfortunately, two people have passed away, but we’re very fortunate that this gyrocopter did not hit a house,” Cook said, adding that it’s possible the operator was able to intentionally avoid the buildings in a last moment of heroism before crashing in the field.

Alexis Kelly said she saw the experimental aircraft crash outside her home around 10 a.m.

“I was standing on my front porch actually and I heard something like the engine cut off above me, and I looked up and I couldn’t really see, and I ran to the top of the road and probably five seconds tops it was going down,” Kelly said. “I never thought I would witness that ever.”

Kelly said her grandmother was one of those who called 911.

“She is very upset,” Kelly said.

Kelly says it’s common to see aircraft in her neighborhood, but never tragedies like this.

“I’m just still in shock,” she said.

Neighbors and first responders say they are keeping the families in their thoughts and prayers. Investigators have not released the names of those killed in the crash.

The Sheriff’s Office said investigators will likely be at the scene for the next day or two to determine the cause of the crash.

Cook said FHP is taking the lead in the investigation and any further updates will come from that agency.

Timeline

Clay County Fire Rescue reported at 10:11 a.m. that crews were at the scene of a downed aircraft in the area of County Road 214 and Baker Road.

At 11:26 a.m., the Clay County Sheriff’s Office confirmed on social media that a helicopter had crashed in that area and was “still on fire.” That fire had been extinguished by 11:43 a.m., deputies said.

Drivers and residents were asked to avoid the area if possible.

At 12:10 p.m., the Florida Highway Patrol confirmed in a Tweet that the two occupants inside the “experimental aircraft” had died at the scene. FHP said the crash occurred on private property at County Road 214 near Melrose Road, which is about a block up from Baker Road.

At 12:39 p.m., the National Transportation Safety Board posted that it will be investigating the crash of “an experimental Gyroplane T-2″ near Melrose.