SEBRING - A helicopter used for crop dusting exploded when it hit the ground near Sebring on Dec. 6, a witness reported, according to a preliminary report released by the National Transportation Safety Board.
The crash, which continues to be investigated, caused the death of Jon Whitaker, 52, of Temple, Ga.
Whitaker had a lease to store the helicopter in a T-hangar at Sebring Regional Airport for the craft's owner, Roter Tech of Georgia, officials said.
At the time of the crash, the report said, Whitaker intended to reposition his aircraft - a flight aimed at moving a helicopter from one location to another for the purpose of maintenance - to Sebring Regional Airport.
During that day, Whitaker had been doing cropdusting, the report said.
"According to the ground crew manager for the operator, about 400 acres was treated with insecticide on the day of the accident," the report said.
Apparently, Whitaker landed in a field and then left it, heading toward Sebring Regional Airport when the witness saw the accident, the report said.
"According to an eyewitness, the helicopter approached from the northwest, traveling to the southeast," the NTSB report said. The helicopter appeared to be 200 feet above ground level. He (the witness) also stated that from the time that the helicopter cleared the trees bordering the west side of the open field, the helicopter made a constant, uninterrupted descent onto the field. The witness further described seeing a large dust plume following the impact, which was followed immediately by an explosion."
The witness did not know whether the helicopter's engine was running at the time of the crash, the report said.
Whitaker had told a business partner that he intended to wash the helicopter and change its engine oil at the airport, the report said.