Two owners of one of the state’s largest thoroughbred farms had been taking aerial photographs of the property in the hours before a helicopter crash killed them both, investigators said Friday.

Dennis G. Madonna, 48, and J. Bradley Jones, 67, co-owners of Regal Heir Farms, were killed instantly, state police said. The 232-acre farm is home to Real Quiet, winner of the 1998 Kentucky Derby and Preakness.

Witnesses reported that the two had been airborne three or four times throughout the day Thursday, with flights lasting anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour, according to Robert Gretz, an air safety investigator for the National Transportation Safety Board.

But there was no immediate indication about what may have caused the crash, Gretz said. “At this point, it’s so early we really haven’t been pointed in one direction yet,” he said.

Witnesses said the crash happened around 4:30 p.m. after the helicopter had been hovering 200 feet off the ground and lost control. The tail rotor hit a building on the property and the main rotor struck a light pole, officials said.

Madonna, who was piloting the aircraft, also maintained a stable of roughly a half-dozen horses at Penn National Race Course in nearby Grantville, said Fred Lipkin, the track’s publicity director.

Lipkin described Madonna as a “very passionate, very enthusiastic person” about horse-breeding in Pennsylvania, and said Madonna had put a considerable amount of money into Regal Heir Farms since he purchased it.

“The farm is a beautiful farm, and they had great plans,” Lipkin said. “I think they were looking into acquiring another farm in the area, to expand even further, bring in brood mares and have a place for the brood mares to live.”

John Wames, president of the Pennsylvania Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association, said he was introduced to Madonna by a mutual friend two years ago at Penn National’s clubhouse. Wames said the two would chat casually whenever they saw each other at the track.

“He was a real racing enthusiast — he had really begun to invest a lot of money in the industry,” Wames said.

After Jones and Madonna purchased Regal Heir Farms last year, they added acreage and stalls.

The farm was formerly known as Reigle Heir Farms, named after its previous owners, Tom and Ann Reigle.

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