Wednesday, December 29, 2021

Robinson R44 Raven II, N544SC: Fatal accident occurred December 29, 2021 near Gatlinburg-Pigeon Forge Airport (KGKT), Sevierville, Sevier County, Tennessee

This is preliminary information, subject to change, and may contain errors. Any errors in this report will be corrected when the final report has been completed. 

The National Transportation Safety Board traveled to the scene of this accident. 

Additional Participating Entities:
Federal Aviation Administration / Flight Standards District Office; Nashville, Tennessee
Robinson Helicopter; Torrance, California
Lycoming; Westport, Pennsylvania

November Alpha LLC

Location: Cosby, Tennessee 
Accident Number: ERA22FA096
Date and Time: December 29, 2021, 14:25 Local 
Registration: N544SC
Injuries: 1 Fatal, 1 Serious
Flight Conducted Under: Part 91: General aviation - Personal

On December 29, 2021, at 1425 eastern standard time, a Robinson R-44 II, N544SC, was substantially damaged when it was involved in an accident near Cosby, Tennessee. The commercial pilot received serious injuries and the passenger was fatally injured. The helicopter was operated as a Title 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91 personal flight.

According to personnel at Gatlinburg-Pigeon Forge Airport (GKT), Sevierville, Tennessee, the pilot and passenger traveled from Utah to pick up the helicopter after leasing it from the owner. They arrived at the service center where the helicopter had been stored about 0830 on the day of the accident. The pilot reviewed the lease agreement and conducted a local flight around the GKT airport traffic pattern to assess the helicopter per the lease agreement.

According to personnel at the service center, “the weather throughout the day was changing from marginal visual flight rules (VFR) conditions to instrument flight rules (IFR) conditions.” The pilot had many conversations with the service center employees about leaving the area but was cautioned by all of them he spoke with about the dangers of flying in the Smoky Mountains in marginal weather. One person showed him a book in their training room filled with controlled flight into terrain (CFIT) accidents that occurred in the area. The pilot’s response was “those are hills,” and informed him he had 14 years of experience of mountain flying. Additionally, a local helicopter air ambulance pilot that worked on the field met the pilot and asked about his intentions. The pilot stated he planned on departing towards Asheville and follow Interstate 40 through the gorge to Raleigh, North Carolina, where he would visit relatives before heading back west. The other helicopter pilot told him that the mountains east of GKT were 6,000 ft and “there was no way he would make it there.” He also stated there were powerlines above the I-40 gorge.

About 1413, the pilot and passenger departed GKT eastbound. Preliminary Federal Aviation Administration radar data (figure 1) showed the helicopter flying through the valleys in an easterly/southeasterly direction at altitudes between 1,200 ft and 1,750 ft. The data was not continuous along the route. An eyewitness located in a campground near the accident site stated that he first heard the helicopter coming, then witnessed it fly out of the fog. After observing the impact trees, he called 911. Additionally, he stated, “it was extremely foggy that day.”

The helicopter came to rest on a heading of 210°, the cabin impacted the ground and was crushed forward with the tail boom raised behind the cabin. The tail rotor was separated and resting on the right side of the wreckage. Examination of the wreckage revealed all engine structural components, fuselage and flight control surfaces were accounted for at the scene. The main and auxiliary fuel tanks remained attached to the fuselage. The auxiliary fuel tank was examined and appeared to be full. Fuel was collected from both tanks with no contamination noted. Flight control continuity was confirmed from all flight control surfaces to the flight controls in the cockpit.

The engine was examined and remained attached to the airframe with no noticeable damage. The engine compartment was free of oil or fuel residue.

Both main rotor blades remained attached to the main rotor hub, and one blade was bent, but complete. The other blade was bent and impact-separated into three pieces. The majority of the blade was attached to the main rotor hub, with three feet of the tip separated in two pieces; about 2.5 ft of blade material and the weighted tip. Both pieces were located near the main wreckage to the north.

The wreckage was retained for further examination.

Aircraft and Owner/Operator Information

Registration: N544SC
Model/Series: R44 II 
Aircraft Category: Helicopter
Amateur Built:
Operating Certificate(s) Held: None
Operator Designator Code:

Meteorological Information and Flight Plan

Conditions at Accident Site: VMC
Condition of Light: Day
Observation Facility, Elevation: GKT, 833 ft msl 
Observation Time: 14:15 Local
Distance from Accident Site: 15 Nautical Miles 
Temperature/Dew Point: 17°C /16°C
Lowest Cloud Condition: Scattered / 1800 ft AGL 
Wind Speed/Gusts, Direction: / ,
Lowest Ceiling: Broken / 3400 ft AGL
Visibility: 10 miles
Altimeter Setting: 29.86 inches Hg 
Type of Flight Plan Filed: None
Departure Point: Gatlinburg, TN (GKT)
Destination: Raleigh, NC (RDU)

Wreckage and Impact Information

Crew Injuries: 1 Serious 
Aircraft Damage: Substantial
Passenger Injuries: 1 Fatal
Aircraft Fire: None
Ground Injuries: N/A
Aircraft Explosion: None
Total Injuries: 1 Fatal, 1 Serious
Latitude, Longitude: 35.773248,-83.279198 (est)

Those who may have information that might be relevant to the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigation may contact them by email, and any friends and family who want to contact investigators about the accident should email You can also call the NTSB Response Operations Center at 844-373-9922 or 202-314-6290.

KNOXVILLE, Tennessee (WVLT) - Matthew Jones, the pilot of a helicopter that crashed in Sevier County late last month, has a history of committing fraud and operating as a certified flight instructor without an airman’s certificate from the Federal Aviation Administration, according to an indictment obtained by WVLT News.

Jones was flying a helicopter that took off from the Gatlinburg-Pigeon Forge Airport on Dec. 29 when he crashed in Sevier County. Jones’ passenger died in the crash, and Jones himself was critically injured, according to documents from law enforcement.

Jones, a Utah native, was indicted in Utah on Oct. 13, 2021 for operating as a flight instructor and defrauding a person who was paying him for flight instruction, court documents say. Jones was part of a scheme that involved advertising his company as an instructor on Instagram and using $9,958.16 intended for instruction for personal use.

During the hearing, the court also ordered Jones be evaluated for THC levels and undergo treatment for substance abuse, court documents state. The court also denied Jones’ request to keep flying after the incident.

“Defendant requests permission to begin flying again,” court documents state. “Government states objections for the record. For the reasons stated on the record, the Court denies the request at this time.”

This means that Jones was not cleared for flying at the time of the December crash.

WVLT News obtained a police report following the crash, which outlines the details as officials responded to the scene.

Juli Wagner

SALT LAKE CITY — Friends of a Utah woman who died in a helicopter crash in Tennessee are speaking out after they learned the pilot was ordered not to fly by a federal judge a week prior.

The U.S. Attorney’s office confirmed to KSL that Matthew Jones should not have been in Tennessee, let alone flying any aircraft. That’s because he’s facing a federal prosecution in Utah for mail fraud and falsely claiming he was a certified flight instructor.

Juli Wagner was the passenger who died in the December 29 crash in Sevier County, Tennessee.

Her friend, Gina Blake, wants justice.

“Juli had a really big, beautiful heart and she loved people,” Blake said.

She was a devoted mother to her son, a huge Tom Brady Patriots fan, and a savvy businesswoman, who Blake says recently started dating Matthew Jones.

“She sent me pictures of him and said he was a pilot who flew planes and helicopters.”

Days before leaving for Tennessee with Jones, Wagner told Blake they were planning on opening a helicopter tour business.

“She said she was excited to go up in the sky with him.”

Tennessee authorities say the helicopter Jones was flying took off from the Gatlinburg-Pigeon Forge Airport and went down eight minutes later. Weather conditions were overcast, drizzly and foggy.

“After she died, this new information started coming out about his background,” Blake said.

Blake says she felt like something was off about Jones, but never imagined he would put Wagner in danger.

Instead of celebrating what would have been Juli Wagner’s 36th birthday last week, Blake will honor her memory.

“I’m really angry,” she said. “I feel like he’s a con-man who conned his way into Juli’s life.

Jones is recovering from his injuries at a Tennessee hospital.

The U.S. Attorney’s office says it will depend on his health status as to when he will be brought back to Utah to face prosecution.

Matthew Jones

KNOXVILLE, Tennessee — The man flying the helicopter that crashed December 29 in Sevier County, killing his passenger, is facing federal prosecution for falsely claiming he was a certified flight instructor in Utah and had been told by a federal magistrate judge one week before the crash that he was not to fly any aircraft, WBIR has learned.

Matthew Jones, 35, suffered injuries when the leased Robinson R44 Raven II helicopter he was piloting went down on a ridge at about 2,000 feet near the Sevier-Cocke county line. His passenger and business associate, Julianne "Juli" Wagner, died in the crash.

Both were from Utah.

Andrew Choate, spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's Office in Utah, confirmed Jones' identity Wednesday and said there's an ongoing investigation. Jones was already being prosecuted in Utah for mail fraud as well as "operating as an airman without an airman's certificate."

Jones is in stable condition at the University of Tennessee Medical Center, where he was transported after the crash the afternoon of December 29 off Apple Tree Lane near Hooper Highway.

The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the crash, NTSB spokesman Peter Knudson said. Sevier and Cocke county authorities referred questions to the federal agency.

The Federal Aviation Administration, in an online database posted last week, stated the pilot died in the December 29 crash and the passenger lived.

That's incorrect, records show.

Jones was at the controls, a Cocke County Sheriff's Office report states. Wagner didn't know how to fly the aircraft, friends told WBIR.

Cocke County officers were the first to speak to Jones at the scene. They could hear him calling for help. A Cocke County sergeant cut Wagner from her seatbelt; she was unresponsive.

The helicopter had been leased from Touchstone Helicopters in California by an Utah-based LLC identified as Lifted. It was Touchstone's understanding the aircraft ultimately would be transported to Utah.

Jones and Wagner were aloft about 8 minutes the afternoon of December 29 after taking off from the Gatlinburg-Pigeon Forge Airport before the helicopter went down. It flew at an elevation between 1,500 feet and 2,000 feet, according to Weather conditions were overcast, drizzly and foggy.

From the flight path, the weather conditions and an eyewitness account, the helicopter may have flown in the clouds, in an area with low visibility.

Wagner would have turned 36 on Sunday.

Her obituary described her as the kind of person "you always wanted to be around, because she made everything brighter, instilled everything with more fun."

She loved the Patriots, beer, hiking, camping and "irreverent comedies." Survivors include a 7-year-old son, the most precious person in the world to her, the obituary states.


A grand jury in Utah indicted Jones, of Spanish Fork, Utah., in October, federal records show.

He represented himself as the owner and operator of Noctem Aviation in Utah and said he was a certified flight instructor in helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft.

Starting in about May 2019, according to court records, and continuing through November 21, 2019, he was involved in a "scheme and artifice" to defraud someone identified as "T.M." who wanted to get flight lessons for a son.

"It was the object of the scheme and artifice to defraud for Jones to obtain money from T.M. through false statements, misrepresentations, deception and omissions of material facts, and false pretenses, in that Jones falsely represented himself to be a (certified flight instructor) and certified pilot in helicopters and fix-wing aircraft authorized to provide training and certification through the FAA," the indictment states.

Jones used text messages and Instagram to claim he was a certified flight instructor, records state.

Jones embezzled money from T.M. through a joint bank account at Deseret First Credit Union set up to cover expenses for the flight instruction.

Instead of spending the money for flight lessons, he used it to personal expenses like rent, ATM withdrawals, cell phone bills and personal purchases, authorities allege.

The government alleges Jones "stole" nearly $10,000 in the "scheme."

Utah business records list Matthew Jones, Julie Myers and Tom Myers as principals in Noctem LLC. Julie Myers, of Springville, Utah, was identified as the registered agent.

By September 2020, Noctem's status as an LLC had expired, records show.

Jones had been allowed free pending prosecution in Utah -- but under certain conditions.

He was ordered not to leave Utah without permission from a pretrial officer. He was also ordered not to use drugs.

Another order, records show: "Defendant shall not be employed as flight instructor, or fly any aircraft. Defendant shall not be self-employed."

Within weeks, Jones was violating the order, records show.

On December 5 -- 24 days before the helicopter crash -- authorities say he used marijuana.

Jones and his attorney were ordered to appear December 22 in U.S. District Court in Utah before Magistrate Judge Dustin B. Pead.

Jones admitted using marijuana, according to records.

Pead ordered stepped-up testing for Jones and testing to check for THC. He also was ordered to undergo a substance abuse evaluation and get treatment as recommended.

Jones still wanted to fly, however. The government objected, records show.

The magistrate told Jones he still was not allowed to fly, according to federal records.

One week later, Jones was up in the air with Wagner Gerritsen in the hills and mountains of East Tennessee.

It was Jones plan to ultimately fly the aircraft, owned by Touchstone Helicopters in California, to Utah, according to Touchstone.

Juli Wagner

Obituary for Julianne Wagner Gerritsen

Those who were lucky enough to know Juli Wagner in this life know that she can never be summated in words. Her presence on this earth was one deeply felt and forever remembered.

Juli was a bright, weird, witty, compassionate, independent, and free-thinking person. A person you always wanted to be around, because she made everything brighter, instilled everything with more fun. Her loved ones always had to be ready to laugh at themselves around her, because Juli didn’t let anyone take themselves too seriously. To her, nothing was too serious that it couldn’t be laughed at.

Juli used to say that she was 40% guy. She loved the Patriots, beer, hiking, camping, and irreverent comedies. Her burps have probably registered on the Richter scale. She could out-belch any man, woman or child in a 100-mile radius.

Her life was shaped by a fierce sense of independence. Juli never wanted to be told the answer to any of life’s questions; she wanted to learn them on her own, making and learning from her own decisions. From a young age, Juli had the determination to follow her own compass and broke every mold anyone ever tried to fit her into. She wasn’t afraid to make mistakes; she was only afraid of living a life that wasn’t authentically hers.

Juli was a spiritual person, and her life is evidence that compassion was her religion. She prioritized spending her time and resources fighting for a better world, a world safer for women, LGBTQ+, and racial minorities. Animal rights, reproductive rights, and environmental conservation were also causes close to her heart.

There are so many qualities that made Juli the incredible, unforgettable woman she was, but what will endure the most is the warmth of her heart, which could fill the infinite universe with its devotion, loyalty, and love. Her unapologetic self-acceptance inspired all she loved to more fully be themselves. Juli’s heart sheltered so many in its care, and for those lucky enough to be embraced by it, there was no better or safer place to be. To them, she was unfailingly generous, loyal, and protective.

Of all the love she gave in life, none exceeded the love for her son, Spencer. All the abundance of her heart she funneled into her boy, the most precious person in the world to her. It was important to her to raise him with intention: to think for himself, to question what’s accepted as true, to fight for others, and to love others just as freely as she did. She frequently took him to concerts, games, and on hiking and camping trips. She had the goal to take Spencer to every National Park. While it was always important to Juli to raise Spencer to be his own person, anyone with eyes can see her shining from his face. His goofiness, his goodness, his brightness, are all born from the love he’s received from his exceptional mother, a love that does not end with her passing.

The impact of Juli’s presence on her family and friends was undeniable while she lived, but is perhaps never more fully felt than in its devastating absence. Juli always said her friends were few, but the impact of her life leaves ripples spanning thousands of miles. She never could fathom how many people have loved her, and how many lives have been forever impacted because of her. Her loss is one that will reverberate in so many hearts forever, leaving us all with the aching loss and the beautiful memory of someone so special and irreplaceable.

Juli is survived by her son, Spencer Gerritsen (7) and his father Jeff Gerritsen to whom she was married from 2013-2018, grandmothers Corene Lasson and Karla Wagner, parents David and Lorilee Lasson Wagner, and 5 siblings: Jayme Wagner, Christian (Michelle) Wagner, Bryan (Kara) Wagner, Connie Wagner (Bradley) Ray, and Katie Wagner (Michael) Riding, and innumerable nieces, nephews, extended family, and friends who were family, who all love her deeply.

A Celebration of Life will be held for Juli on Tuesday, Jan 11, from 10:00 – 11:00 am at The Manor at Riverwoods, 4801 N. University Ave. #370, Provo, Utah. To view services via live stream, please click on the following link:

In lieu of flowers, donations can be made in Juli’s name to the following causes that were dear to her:
Humane Society of Utah:
Planned Parenthood Association of Utah:
The Trevor Project:

KNOXVILLE, Tennessee (WVLT) - A Cocke County Sheriff’s Office police report details the tragic scene that first responders found once arriving at a helicopter crash in December near the Cocke Co. and Sevier Co. line.

Multiple agencies, including Cocke County and Sevier County Sherriff’s Office, Sevier County EMS and the National Park Service, responded to a crashed Robinson R44 helicopter on December 29, just shy of 3:00 p.m.

Once on the scene, CCSO Sgt. Keys and Deputy Sutton could hear a male yelling for help, the report said. They found a man and woman inside the remains of the helicopter, according to the report obtained by WVLT News.

“The male was yelling in pain, stating that he cannot move his legs and has a lot of pain in his lower back,” Sgt. Keys said.

Law enforcement personnel reportedly checked the woman and did not see any apparent injuries. However, they said she was “unresponsive and not moving.” After more officers, fire crews and paramedics arrived on the scene, the two were moved from the helicopter due to fuel leaking onto the ground, the report said.

“The male stated his name was Matt Jones and his passenger’s name was Julie Wagner,” Sgt. Keys stated in the report. According to officials, the man, identified as the pilot in the report, could not describe the events that occurred due to his injuries. He was taken to the hospital and the female was moved to be evaluated, according to the report.

A preliminary report from the Federal Aviation Administration differs. According to the report, the pilot died in the crash, which occurred for unknown reasons, and the passenger suffered severe injuries. WVLT News has reached out to the National Transportation Safety Board to confirm who was piloting the helicopter when it crashed but has not heard back as of Tuesday afternoon.

According to, the helicopter took off from the Gatlinburg-Pigeon Forge airport at 2:13 p.m. and was supposed to land at 2:26 p.m. but was last seen in the Sevierville area at 2:21 p.m.

With tail number N544SC, the helicopter is registered to November Alpha LLC, a company that owns Touchstone Helicopters, a helicopter leaser out of California.

Witnesses on the scene in December told WVLT News that the helicopter crashed near Baxter’s Orchard and was surrounded by “at least 40 fire trucks” when it first occurred.

A witness who said they live less than a tenth of a mile from the crash site spoke to WVLT News about the incident.

“As I was coming out of my house, you saw it just streak across; you couldn’t get to it fast enough,” the witness said. “It was incredibly loud, and you know something is wrong when something like that hits the side of a mountain that your house is attached to.”

WVLT News also spoke with a representative from Scenic Helicopter Tours, a tourist helicopter ride company in the area, who spoke on the flying conditions for the time of day it occurred.

“These weather conditions are not flyable,” they said.

This investigation continues and is being led by the NTSB.


  1. I grew up in nearby Newport, TN, in Cocke County. The Gatlinburg-Pigeon Forge Airport lies in a relatively flat bowl / valley with easy approaches to the runway. But eastward and southeastward the terrain rapidly rises and the foothills around Cosby are all quadrants. It's possible the pilot was trying to scud-run navigate State / County Highway 339 through the narrow, winding valley towards Cosby? Just a thought. Praying the passenger can recover and provide useful info to investigators.

  2. I re-read the news pieces, and looks like the crash site was near the intersection of Apple Tree Lane and Hiway 321, which runs between Gatlinburg and Cosby. That section of 321 runs along a valley with hills both sides. Driven that road many times. Apple Lane extends northward along a hollow with terrain sloping down to the immediate west, and a lower bowl to the north. But tall hills / small mountains all around there. From eyewitness accounts of the low clouds / low visibility, I surmise this was a sight-seeing trip or perhaps looking at property, which is popular in that region. So sad that it ended this way, but again merely speculating.

  3. On the day before the accident, there was lots of activity on ADS-B:

    1. How do you get the ADS-B information? Can you post the information for the actual day of the crash?

    2. How do you find the ADS-B information? How do I find it for the day of the accident?

  4. KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — The man flying the helicopter that crashed Dec. 29 in Sevier County, killing his passenger, is facing federal prosecution for falsely claiming he was a certified flight instructor in Utah and had been told by a federal magistrate judge one week before the crash that he was not to fly any aircraft, WBIR has learned.

    1. Wow wow wow wow!!!! What a cad, and he killed a very lovely lady in the process of criminal behavior. It will be interesting to see how the dots are laid out as he traveled from Utah to east Tennessee and somehow conned a lot of people to get himself and a passenger into the helo. Thank God he didn't take others along or killed someone on the ground. He needs to be in prison a LOOONG time, or something more permanent.


      This is what stupid looks like.