Three people were killed when a helicopter crashed south of Atlanta early Sunday.

The helicopter went down around 5:45 a.m. behind a one-story home in a wooded rural area near Barnesville, and killed all those aboard, said Lamar County Sheriff Larry Waller. No one on the ground was hurt.

Killed were the pilot, Wyatt Zane Rogers, and two passengers, Kendall and Kelly Loudermilk, all of Spartanburg, S.C., Waller said.

Waller said the chartered Robinson R44 helicopter had taken off from Greenville Downtown Airport at 3 a.m. and was headed to Apalachicola Municipal Airport in Florida, where the Loudermilks planned to attend a funeral.

“It looked like the helicopter came down almost vertically to the ground,” he said.

Angel Kilgore said the helicopter crashed into her backyard while she, her boyfriend and two children were sleeping. A loud boom woke them up.

“It sounded like it was right in my bedroom,” she said. “The whole house shook. It just rattled.”

Kilgore said her boyfriend tried to help, but there was nothing he could do to save them.

Neighbor Kevin Pearson said his wife heard a sputtering noise above their house.

“As soon as she woke me up we heard the boom. That’s when it hit the ground and exploded,” he said. “I got out there, ran to the scene, and it exploded again.”

Waller said the pilot was ejected. Recovery crews were on the scene near state Hwy. 36, and pieces of the craft were being pulled out of the woods Sunday afternoon.

The Federal Aviation Administration and the National Traffic Safety Board were investigating the cause of the crash. Waller said he did not know whether the pilot had made a call to the nearby Thomaston-Upson County Airport for an emergency landing.

Eric Alleyne of the NTSB said it could take up to six months to determine the exact cause of the crash.

The helicopter is registered to MG Aviation, based in Greenville, S.C., authorities said. A phone call to MG Aviation was not immediately returned.

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