Friday, April 11, 2003

Helicopter crash due
to Maui pilot’s error

By Gary T. Kubota

WAILUKU >> The uncle of a 14-year-old Texas girl who died with six others in the crash of a sightseeing helicopter in Maui's Iao Valley nearly three years ago has criticized the length of time taken to issue a final investigative report.

"We're certainly disappointed about the delay in reporting," Streeter said. "I'm not surprised with the outcome."

Streeter said the family of Natalie Prince was still grieving.

"We miss Natalie," he said. "Not a day goes by without us thinking about her."

The National Transportation Safety Board issued a final report yesterday, saying the cause of the Blue Hawaiian Helicopters crash on July 21, 2000, was mainly due to a misjudgment by the pilot.

The board said the pilot failed to stay away from cloudy mountainous terrain and made an "inadequate decision" when he decided to fly by visual flight rules instead of by instruments.

Others killed in the crash included Prince's friend 14-year-old Whitney Wood, also of Texas, whose family was vacationing on Maui and had brought Natalie with them; pilot Larry Kirsch, 55, of Kihei; and an entire family: New Jersey resident William "Jack" Jordan, 51, a Seton Hall professor; wife Jan Herscovitz, 49, a physician; and children Max, 17, and Lindsey, 16.

According to the board, the tour was intended to circumnavigate the West Maui Mountains with occasional close-up views of scenic locations.

The board said a videotape taken by a pilot on an earlier flight indicated that clouds were approaching the transition route into the valley.

"The pilot elected to bypass it, as did other tour pilots, due to the clouds obscuring the mountain peaks in the Iao Valley," the board said.

The board said three other pilots on tour helicopters modified flights to exclude the area flown by the accident pilot.

A witness said he noticed clouds stretched from one side of the valley to the other.

The board said Kirsch likely became disoriented and flew his helicopter into the mountain at the 2,850-foot level, about 50 feet below the peak.

David Chevalier, chief executive officer of Blue Hawaiian, agreed with the board's findings.

"We're devastated for the families," Chevalier said. "This has got to be the worst thing in the world for people."

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