MEDFORD – One half of a popular country music duo was killed in a helicopter crash here Friday afternoon.
The pilot of the helicopter, 30-year-old James Evan Robinson of Medford, also was killed.
The aircraft went down around 12:37 p.m. The band had been set to perform Friday evening at the airport, which also houses a resort.
Gentry’s singing partner, Eddie Montgomery, was at the airport waiting for him to arrive when the helicopter crashed, police said.
“It is with great sadness that we confirm that Troy Gentry … was tragically killed in a helicopter crash,” the band reported on their verified Twitter account about 4 p.m.
Vocalists Eddie Montgomery and Troy Gentry, both Kentucky natives, began performing with other bands in the 1990s before forming Montgomery Gentry in 1999. The band has collaborated with Charlie Daniels, Toby Keith, Five for Fighting, and members of The Allman Brothers Band.
They recorded six albums for the Nashville Division of Columbia Records that produced 20 chart singles on the Billboard Hot Country Songs charts, including the No. 1 hits “If You Ever Stop Loving Me”, “Something to Be Proud Of”, “Lucky Man”, “Back When I Knew It All” and “Roll with Me.” Other songs have been hits in the top 10 on country charts.
In 2009 they were inducted into the Grand Ole Opry. The Academy of Country Music and Country Music Association both named them Duo of the Year in 2000. Every year since they have been nominated for that award by both associations.
In 2013, in an interview with the Des Moines Register, the singers said that after nearly 20 years together, they were still having fun.
“I reckon we’re like a married couple, sort of,” Montgomery said. “You hear horror stories all the time about duos, but we’ve always just been friends having fun and making music.”
Medford Police Chief Richard Meder said officers were called to the airport at 12:40 p.m. for reports of a helicopter having difficulty in the air.
The flight had taken off from the airport and was attempting return, police said.
“We were there within a minute, but shortly after our arrival, the helicopter went down short of the runway in a wooded and swampy area,” the chief said.
“We were able to extricate one of those passengers and transported him to Virtua (Marlton Hospital), where he was later pronounced dead. The passenger was later identified as Troy Gentry.”
Robinson, the pilot died at the scene, and rescue crews worked for hours to remove his body from the mangled wreckage. Robinson, a helicopter pilot at the Flying W’s flight school, recently moved to Medford and originally was from Meigs, Ga., police said.
Meder said Montgomery had been at the airport, waiting for Gentry’s arrival, when the accident occurred. “There were witnesses there who were able to identify” Gentry, the chief said.
A spokeswoman for the Federal Aviation Administration said the Schweitzer 269 “crashed in a wooded area off the end of runway 1.” Arlene Salac said the FAA and the National Transportation Safety Board are investigating the crash.
The helicopter was registered with Helicopter Flight Services, which is based at the airport. A message seeking comment was not immediately returned.
A person who answered a phone at Flying W, which straddles Medford and Lumberton townships, said the airport did not plan to make a comment on the crash.
News of Gentry’s death reverberated throughout the country music community.
Blake Shelton, Brad Paisley and the Grand Ole Opry both tweeted that they were “heartbroken.” Shooter Jennings called Gentry a friend, saying: “I had great times with him. I’m stunned, angry and upset at the moment. I’ll miss you.”
Gentry was a fan of Kentucky basketball and was dedicated to his wife, Angie, and their daughter, Kaylee. But the duo’s longtime publicist, Craig Campbell, said what defined Gentry professionally is his admiration for country music fans.
“One of the greatest things about those guys is he and (Eddie Montgomery) loved their fans,” Campbell explained. “Everybody says that, but everything they did was for their fans.”
Blake Chancey, former senior vice president of A&R at Sony Music, signed Troy Gentry and Eddie Montgomery to a record deal in 1998 after seeing them play at the Grapevine in Lexington.
“The club was filled with friends and family the night I went to see them,” Chancey recalls. “After the first song, the whole club turned around and looked at me — like they were staring holes through me. I was scared to death. I had to sign them so I could get out of there alive,” he joked.
“I love those guys,” he continued. “I’m beyond words. … My thoughts and prayers go out to everyone.”
Gentry’s recent years were marked with loss and struggle. In 2014, he grieved the death of his brother, Keith. Their father, Lloyd Gentry, died Aug. 13 of this year.
Two years ago, the 19-year-old son of Eddie Montgomery died suddenly in an unspecified accident.
Gentry was also by Montgomery’s side as he battled prostate cancer in 2010. That experience gave him insight and courage a few years later when his wife, Angie McClure Gentry, was diagnosed with breast cancer. She was eventually declared cancer-free in 2015.
“Angie and I are pretty deeply faithful people,” he told The Tennessean that year.
There were career setbacks, as well. Gentry’s image never fully recovered after a 2004 hunting incident, in which he used a bow and arrow to kill a captive bear in a 3-acre private enclosure. He pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge. In 2010, he faced a new round of criticism after an animal-rights group posted video of the incident. In a public statement, Gentry apologized for “the unethical way the bear was taken.”
“I have learned my lesson, and have paid a huge price, both personally and professionally. Since this happened, I know in my heart that I am a different and better person.”
That same year, Montgomery Gentry was recognized for their charitable work by the Academy of Country Music. They earned the organization’s humanitarian award for their work with the U.S. military, the T.J. Martell Foundation, the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Middle Tennessee and St. Jude’s Research Hospital, among others.
The duo’s most recent album, “Folks Like Us,” was released in 2015. Last year they re-signed with former label Average Joes Entertainment with immediate plans to work on new music.
The Tennessean contributed to this report.