WILMINGTON -- A Wilmington firefighter died in a helicopter crash Thursday. Capt. John Miller was off-duty when his chopper went down off Carolina Beach Road (view map) around 10 a.m behind Strickland's Army Surplus Store. Miller was the only person on board at the time.
Friends say Miller got off work Thursday morning and took his helicopter out for a ride. Witnesses who saw the accident say it looked like mechanical errors caused the Robinson R-22 chopper to crash.
"The helicopter was flying pretty low and it looked like part of the engine fell off then it went down and exploded," Jonathan Longnecker, who saw the crash, said.
"I heard a helicopter but it sounded really funny like something was wrong with the engine, and then I didn't hear anything," a woman who identified herself as Charlotte said. "Then I looked outside and saw everybody running."
No one on the ground was hurt. The Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board are investigating the cause of the crash. Miller had been a pilot for about 18 months and had just purchased his own helicopter about eight months ago. His friends said the helicopter had passed inspection in January.
Friends and fellow firefighters have already started to show their support for Miller's family. Miller had been with the Wilmington Fire Department since 1990. Neighbors say the city has lost a local hero.
Remembering Capt. John Miller
John Miller started his career as a firefighter in Wilmington in 1990. Over the years he had developed a very close bond with the other firefighters. Now many in the fire department feel as if they have lost a family member.
"It is a very, very close-knit family," Capt. Cliff Willman said. "He leaned on my shoulder, I leaned on his shoulder. That's part of being a firefighter: having the love and support of your brothers."
Willman not only worked side-by-side with Miller at the Wilmington Fire Department. He was also a close family friend. The two had known each other for 22 years. Now the news of Miller's sudden death is hitting Willman and many other local firefighters hard.
"It's a very hard thing to deal with when you have a close friend and brother firefighter lose his life," Willman said. "He's touched many lives in this town."
Willman recalled one of Millers many life saving moments.
"He was off duty, and he was test driving a car from a local dealership up off I-40 with the salesman inside, and he looked up and there was a jeep flipping down the road," Willman said. "The driver got out, and the passenger couldn't get out and the thing caught on fire and John got her out."
Now Willman just wants to remind the community of how great of a loss the city has suffered.
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